Basketball Column

ConnecticutÂ’s Kemba Walker (left), shown here in a game last season in Austin, put the Huskies on his back en route to a national title.

Photo Credit: Allen Otto | Daily Texan Staff

Back in January, the nation’s leading scorer strolled into the Frank Erwin Center from Connecticut.

He handed Texas a heartbreaking one-point overtime loss and went on to lead the Huskies to their third national title. Now, the Longhorns are hoping J’Covan Brown can provide the same spark Kemba Walker did for UConn last season.

Brown finds himself in a similar situation as Walker did last season — at a proud basketball program starved for established scoring threats. Three of UConn’s top four scorers did not return a year ago, leaving Walker to become the go-to guy on offense, almost by default. Likewise, the Longhorns are leaning on Brown for scoring production with six of last season’s top seven point-scorers gone.

That’s why six points just won’t cut it.

Going 3-for-10 from the floor when the likes of Jordan Hamilton, Tristan Thompson, Gary Johnson and Cory Joseph surround you is acceptable. But not this year. Brown entered Tuesday as the country’s sixth-highest scorer at 23.2 points per game but has cooled off recently. The junior guard is shooting 28 percent from the field in his last two contests and has hit just one of his last seven tries from beyond the arc.

Brown scored a career-high 35 points in a 10-point win over Rhode Island earlier this season, the only time he’s put up more than 20 shots while Walker topped 20 shots 12 times last season. Texas will need its leading scorer to be more aggressive, rather than confine himself to the corner opposite the Longhorns bench like he did for most of the second half Tuesday night.

Walker, who was a junior last season like Brown is now, practically put a patent on game-winning step-back jumpers. Brown hasn’t had any last-minute outcome-altering shots to boast, but he has been clutch, scoring 12 of his 20 points in the second half of the aforementioned contest against Connecticut. He had 21 after halftime in Texas’ 70-69 NCAA tournament loss to Arizona and exploded for 11 during a five-minute span in the second half of the Longhorns’ historic 74-63 victory at Kansas.

But getting ejected against NC State last week, a miscue that essentially cost Texas a win as the Wolfpack ended the game on a 24-9 run following Brown’s fifth foul, raises a red flag. As fiery of a competitor as Walker was, he never got thrown out of a game.

To his credit, Brown doesn’t have quite the supporting cast that Walker had last season, although most of his teammates are freshmen with a lot of promise and room to improve. Rookies accounted for all three Longhorns that scored in double figures against North Texas and for 54 of their 73 points. But for Texas to have any hope of reaching the NCAA tournament, much less contending for a conference or national title, it will need Brown to step up.

Printed on Wednesday, November 30, 2011 as: Texas needs more than six from Brown to win nightly

In this photo taken July 18, Jean Nidetch, founder of Weight Watchers, is shown at her home in Parkland, Fla. Fifty years after Nidetch went on the diet that changed her life, she says she still lives by most of the ideals she espoused when she started the international weight loss group 50 years ago.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

Jean Nidetch ambles down the hallway of the senior community where she lives, two cups of Coca-Cola teetering on her walker. In her one-bedroom apartment, there are Klondike bars in the freezer and, in the fridge, Baileys Irish Cream beside Chinese take-out. If these don’t seem the trappings of the woman who founded Weight Watchers, don’t be alarmed. At 87, Nidetch has earned some allowances.

Besides, she says, she doesn’t touch most of the stuff anyway.

Fifty years after Nidetch went on the diet that changed her life, she says she still lives by most of the ideals she espoused when she started the international weight loss group 50 years ago at her New York City home. And among the many thousands of Weight Watchers leaders who have followed in her footsteps, her name alone still prompts wide eyes, rapt attention and unflinching reverence.

David Kirchhoff, Weight Watchers’ current chief executive, says he’ll never forget when he finally met Nidetch, three years ago at a convention in Orlando. He introduced her to a crowd of Weight Watchers leaders that gasped, grabbed for cameras and rushed the stage.

“I felt like I was at a Rolling Stones concert,” Kirchhoff said. “The whole place just completely erupted.”

When Nidetch moved to Florida a few years ago, she found residents in her Broward County complex would whisper “That’s her,” as she passed. She’s grown to enjoy the attention. After all, people recognize her for doing something she’s proud of.

Nidetch struggled with her weight from an early age. As a child growing up in Brooklyn, she remembers struggling to squeeze out from her desk during a fire drill and by the time she was 38, in 1961, she was carrying 214 pounds on her 5-foot-7 frame. She had tried nearly everything, but decided to give a New York City Board of Health obesity clinic a shot.

The tips she heard were simple: No skipping meals. Fish five times a week. Two pieces of bread and two glasses of skim milk a day. More fruits and vegetables.

The first week, she lost two pounds, but she dreaded going to meetings because of the way the clinic’s leader delivered information and how discussion seemed discouraged.

“I hate it here,” she remembers a woman sitting next to her saying. “So do I,” she replied.

So, in time, she began relaying the message to a group of friends that gathered in her living room. Friends brought friends and soon dozens were crowding in.

A hallmark of Nidetch’s group was sharing the dark secrets of compulsive eating with others who understood. She never thought of it as a business, but two of her participants — Felice and Al Lippert — convinced her otherwise and papers were drawn up in 1963 to make it official.

Weight Watchers was born.

The company grew fast and before Nidetch knew it, she was a recognizable face, sitting beside Johnny Carson on television or staring out from boxes in the frozen food aisle. Franchises were opened, a cookbook sold millions and by 1968, the company went public with adherents across the globe. By the time the company’s 10th birthday came, it was so popular the occasion was marked with a massive gathering at Madison Square Garden, some 16,000 people in attendance, Bob Hope on stage and a snaking line waiting for her autograph.

By the time Nidetch and the Lipperts decided to sell the company to H.J. Heinz Co. in 1978, it fetched about $71 million.

Today, though, Nidetch lives simply. In a 2009 autobiography, “The Jean Nidetch Story,” she said, simply, “I’m not a millionaire anymore.” Asked by a reporter recently, she said “Maybe I am, I don’t know.”

Though she has slowed a bit from her younger years, Nidetch is still feisty as ever, and is blunt when she boils down her advice to dieters: “Drop the damn fork!” she says.

Nidetch, who is twice divorced, still maintains a touch of glamour from her higher-profile days, dying her wavy hair blonde and wearing gold hoop earrings, a frilly red shirt and a white sweater on a recent visit. And she still keeps her weight steady, stepping on the scale regularly to make sure she’s on target. She most recently weighed in at 142 pounds, precisely the goal weight she reached in 1962.

She does allow some exceptions at her age. She drinks regular soda, not diet, because her doctor warned her away from artificial sweeteners. Much of the Weight Watchers-unfriendly foods in her house, she says, were brought by her son David and go untouched.

“Sometimes I have trouble getting her to eat,” he said.

Nidetch says she doesn’t even crave the foods she once did, but that even if she did, she wouldn’t touch them. “When you’ve reach my age,” she said, “you’ve already decided how you want to live.”

As for breakfast, that most important meal of the day, which Nidetch always told her followers to make sure they ate? She skips it now, opting to rise late and start her day with lunch.

Kirchhoff gasps when told, but admits she’s allowed some leniency.

“At 87,” Nidetch said, “you have a right to sleep.”

For 40 minutes, Texas made life hard for the nation's leading scorer.

Overtime, however, was Kemba Walker's time.

Walker made a desperate from-the-hip 3-pointer, then nailed the game-winner from about 15 feet with 5 seconds left in overtime Saturday to lift No. 8 Connecticut to a tough 82-81 victory over the No. 12 Longhorns.

"I felt like I owed it to my team," Walker said of his effort in overtime. "I felt like I would get my shot and make it."

Walker, who came in averaging 26.1 points, finished with 22 against Texas on 8-of-27 shooting. He scored seven in overtime. The 3-pointer came with a second left on the shot clock and put the Huskies ahead 80-77.

"I threw it up," Walker said, "and God was on my side."

Texas (12-3) had a final chance to win, but after getting the ball to midcourt and calling timeout, freshman Cory Joseph juggled the inbound pass and misfired a 3-point attempt at the buzzer. Joseph had made the winning shot in the final seconds to beat North Carolina earlier this season.

Alex Oriaki had a career-high 21 rebounds for Connecticut (12-2), which exploited Texas' focus on stopping Walker to score 42 points in the paint. The Huskies also ended the Longhorns' 27-game home winning streak against non-conference opponents.

Jordan Hamilton and J'Covan Brown each scored 20 points to lead five Texas players in double figures. Hamilton had given the Longhorns the lead before Walker's game winner.

Guard Dogus Balbay, so effective in the defensive effort on Walker in regulation, said he was hesitant to contest the winning shot because he was called for a foul against Walker on the previous play. He got a hand up but Walker shot over him.

"I tried my best and he hit it," Balbay said.

UConn blew a chance to win the game in regulation. Oriaki blocked a shot by Texas' Gary Johnson and Roscoe Smith grabbed the rebound with about 11 seconds left. Instead of holding the ball for a final shot, Smith launched a wild crosscourt shot that sailed over the backboard and into the Texas pep band.

That gave the Longhorns the ball back with 7.5 seconds to play, but Brown missed to send the game into overtime.

"It was just a mistake," UConn's Shabazz Napier said. "Everyone said, 'Oh God, Roscoe.'"

Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun called the win the Huskies' best of the season.

"Yeah, we've beaten Michigan State and Kentucky," Calhoun said. "(But) we held our own on the boards and we scrapped our way through it. What a terrific game."

With Texas focused on stopping Walker, the Huskies had plenty of easy looks at shots close the basket. The Huskies shot just 38 percent for the game but grabbed 23 offensive rebounds and scored 24 second-chance points.

"In my mind, I keep playing through the easy ones they got," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "Defensively we did some good things ... but when you give up 23 offensive rebounds, you can't feel good about that."

Texas held Walker scoreless for the first 17 minutes and led by as many as nine points late in the first half. Connecticut rallied in the second behind more strong play inside and Napier's three 3-pointers.

And Walker, as frustrated as he was in the first half, kept working for his shot.

Connecticut held its biggest lead at 68-59 in the second half when Walker finished a slashing layup and Napier made a 3-pointer.

"Kemba Walker is Kemba Walker and he's going to make a play," Calhoun said.

Texas fought back to cut the lead to 70-69 on Tristan Thompson's bank shot with 2:36 to play. Hamilton blew a dunk on a fast break, but the Longhorns grabbed the lead on Brown's short jumper before the teams ended regulation tied at 73.

When it came down to the final seconds of overtime, there was little doubt the ball would be in Walker's hands.

"I've seen that shot so many times," Calhoun said. "You can go through a whole game and Kemba is about winning, and that was just a big-time win."