Kemba Walker couldn’t stop smiling on Monday morning.
The four-time All-Star point guard was finally able to hold his No. 8 Knicks jersey after signing with his childhood team — the Bronx native heading to Madison Square Garden after his contract was bought out by the Oklahoma City Thunder earlier this summer — as he was introduced along with fellow new acquisition, Evan Fournier.
“This feeling has been like no other,” Walker said. “I’m randomly getting goosebumps. It’s an unbelievable feeling to come home.”
Walker attended Rice High School in Harlem before becoming a national sensation at UConn where he led his Huskies to five wins in five nights in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden to make the NCAA Tournament — including a buzzer-beating step-back jumper to defeat Pitt in the quarterfinals. He topped it off with a national championship that year before he was drafted ninth overall by the Charlotte Bobcats.
“It’s different because I’m from here. I played so many times here growing up,” Walker said. “It’s going to be different now that I’m in a Knicks jersey. It’s going to be different.”
With the Bobcats/Hornets organization, Walker became one of the premier point guards in the game before he was traded to the Boston Celtics, where he spent the last two seasons. He’s averaged 19.9 points, 5.4 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game and is one of six players (Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and Russell Westbrook) with career averages of at least 19.5 points, 5.0 assists, and 1.30 steals while shooting greater than 35% from three-point range.
With Boston last year, Walker was right near his career averages with 19.3 points and 4.9 assists per game despite dealing with a knee injury that limited his ability to play in back-to-back games. That won’t be the case this year as Knicks head coach Tom Thibodeau bluntly said “he’s playing,” with a smirk.
Now the 31-year-old will get to ply his trade full-time and try to improve those numbers for a team that he never thought he’d suit up for.
“I talked to my friends, my family sometimes, we talked about possibly at the end of the career, finishing with the Knicks,” Walker said. “I just never seen it really happening. I just had no idea.
“Now? Yeah, it’s the most unreal feeling. I can’t really explain it. I can’t really put into words how amazing this feeling is being back home.”
He and Fournier now hold the promise of rejuvenating a Knicks backcourt that had been in desperate need of a revamp as their offense was the worst scoring unit in the NBA last year. Walker is ready to help improve that standing.
“My ability to get in the lane, draw multiple defenders, and just get rid of the basketball,” Walker said. “I know this guy right here [Fournier] is going to light it up. He’s going to shoot the crap out of the ball.”
For Fournier, who posted a career-best 41.3% clip from three-point range last year, the prospect of the Knicks’ potential is something that made New York such an attractive landing spot.
“They were a hard team to play against,” the 28-year-old who played for the Orlando Magic and Celtics last year, said. “They played hard and played with discipline… They executed extremely well. Teams like that are hard to beat because they don’t beat themselves.
“Looking at a team like that, it’s clear that they had togetherness, they practiced well. Throughout the season, they kept getting better and better. As a player, that’s exciting.”