Floating around the UConn basketball offices is a photo album of
the team's trip in August to Europe and the Middle East. There
are snapshots of players standing in front of Buckingham Palace,
frolicking in the Dead Sea and strolling along the cobblestone
streets of Nazareth. But none of these pictures bring a twinkle
to the eyes of coach Jim Calhoun quite like the one of squarish
point guard Khalid El-Amin smiling brilliantly as he sits
astride a camel outside the Israeli city of Tiberias.
"We go for a camel ride and none of the kids want to get close
to the camels because they're afraid of getting spit on or
bitten," recalls Calhoun. "Then here comes Khalid yelling,
'Follow me.' He jumps on a camel, and sure enough everyone
follows him. That's when I realized I've got a kid who knows how
By leading the charge of the camel brigade, El-Amin showed
Calhoun just how much he has grown since last season, when he
helped UConn set a school record for wins. All five Huskies
starters return, including 6'6" junior forward Richard Hamilton,
the top returning vote-getter for the 1998 AP national player of
the year award. But it is El-Amin, the 5'10", 200-pound
sophomore, whom Calhoun calls his "most important player."
Although he was named Big East Rookie of the Year last season,
El-Amin fired away far too frequently (witness his field goal
percentage: 42.4), and his shoot-first, pass-second mentality
often upset the rhythm of the offense. During the Goodwill Games
this summer he asked everyone from Utah playmaker Andre Miller
to Minnesota coach Clem Haskins about ways to improve his game.
"A good point guard has to think team first all the time,"
El-Amin says. "Sometimes I didn't do that last year."
El-Amin's primary job will be to get the ball to the silky
Hamilton, who has fully recovered since breaking his right foot
in July. Named the Big East Player of the Year last season after
averaging 21.5 points, Hamilton spent his convalescence at home
in Coatesville, Pa., watching videotapes of himself in high
school. "I wanted to stay in tune with my game," he says. "When
you go 2 1/2 months without playing, it's easy to lose your
That was a problem last year for 6'7" junior Kevin Freeman, who
struggled to play what Calhoun calls the Marshall Position.
Named after former Huskies Donyell and Donny, the Marshall
Position requires the muscle of a power forward and the
quickness of a small forward. During the team's six-game
overseas tour, however, Freeman showed remarkable progress. Says
Calhoun, "He started to look like he could be a special player."
If Freeman can marshal his talent, the Huskies' starting five
will be as good as any in the country. The NBA folks seem to
think as much: Three scouts attended a recent practice that
consisted of little more than shooting and rebounding drills.
"The sky is the limit for us," says El-Amin. "If I get everyone
involved, we'll be a very, very nice team."
COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA King Richard The reigning Big East Player of the Year, Hamilton is flush after healing a broken foot. [Richard Hamilton in game]
POS. HT. CLASS KEY STAT
SF [*]Richard Hamilton 6'6" Jr. 21.5 ppg
PF [*]Kevin Freeman 6'7" Jr. 56.9 FG%
C [*]Jake Voskuhl 6'11" Jr. 7.1 rpg
SG [*]Ricky Moore 6'2" Sr. 44.1 FG%
PG [*]Khalid El-Amin 5'10" So. 16.0 ppg
'97-98 record: 32-5 Final rank (coaches' poll): No. 7