EMEKA OKAFOR LED THE HUSKIES TO THEIR SECOND NATIONAL TITLE, IN 2004. The junior center, who was named NABC Co--National Player of the Year, also earned Most Outstanding Player honors at the Final Four and was the second pick in the '04 NBA draft. He's now the starting center for the New Orleans Hornets, and he spoke with SI's Chris Mannix.
What made the 2004 championship team so special?
EO: We had great chemistry on and off the court. There were no cliques in our group. We had the coach, we had the players, and we had the experience. And everyone was a hard worker, everyone was a gym rat. We were pretty highly touted before the season, but we never bought into that. We went out every night with the goal of proving to everyone that we were the best.
You miss those days?
EO: Oh, yeah. The college atmosphere is so different. I caught a lucky break in the schedule and got to go to the Elite Eight game in Anaheim. I was getting flashbacks. When they were celebrating, I was replacing guys on that team in my mind with guys from my team. It's chilling.
You keep in touch with a lot of the guys from that team?
EO: Absolutely. A few guys I see in the NBA—Ben Gordon, Charlie Villanueva, Hilton Armstrong—but I stay in touch with Shamon Tooles, Taliek Brown and Rashad Anderson. Every time we see each other, it's like no time has passed. There is always going to be that bond with us.
How big is basketball at UConn?
EO: Huge. Honestly, going there was a bit of a culture shock at first. I would walk around campus, and everyone would know who I was and what kind of player I was. There's an incredible passion for the men's and women's teams created by a lot of really smart fans. The deeper we got into every season, you could feel the energy and excitement building. With the women's team being great too, it felt like the whole school was behind us.
What impresses you the most about the 2011 team?