UConn will be honoring two legendary basketball players at Gampel Pavilion who each had tremendous impact on the university’s athletic legacy. This Saturday, before the women’s game against Houston, Rebecca Lobo, who played for the Huskies from 1991-1995, will have her number retired. Likewise with the men’s game on Sunday, the university will be retiring Ray Allen’s number, who played for the Huskies from 1993-1996. Lobo’s 50 and Allen’s 34 will be the first numbers retired in UConn basketball history. Today, we discuss the impact that each player had on the basketball program and debate which player left a larger footprint.
Lobo and Allen are two of the greatest basketball players to ever put on a UConn uniform, and there are no players more deserving of being the first to have their numbers retired. However, when talking about which player left the larger footprint, the clear choice is Rebecca Lobo.
Lobo is not the greatest women’s basketball player in UConn’s history, but she is the most important. Her tenure as a Husky was instrumental in making UConn women’s basketball what it is today. She was the first great UConn player to lead her team to a National Championship, an accomplishment later followed by the likes of Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi and Breanna Stewart. While National Championships are as common in Storrs now as the frigid weather, that was not the case when Lobo played there.
When Lobo came to UConn in 1991, the program was up-and-coming for sure, but it had yet to make its mark on college basketball. It was led by seventh-year head coach Geno Auriemma, who just brought the team to its first Final Four appearance in program history. Now all that was left to do was win a championship. In her senior season, Lobo led the Huskies to an undefeated 35-0 season to claim the program’s first of 11 National Championships. She was also the first UConn player to win Naismith College Player of the Year Award in that season. If that is not leaving a mark on a program, I don’t know what is.
Lobo got the women’s program jump-started with that National Championship, and though Allen didn’t win one during his playing time as a Husky, I would contend that he did the same for the men’s program, just in a different way.
Before Allen went into the NBA and had a Hall of Fame caliber career, who was the most notable UConn grad to have an impact in the big leagues? Donyell Marshall? Cliff Robinson? Ray Allen’s success at the next level, along with starring alongside Denzel Washington in Spike Lee’s “He Got Game,” put him, along with UConn basketball, on a national stage.
By Allen’s second NBA season, which was the 1997-98 season, he was scoring 19.5 points per game for the Milwaukee Bucks. “He Got Game” came out in May of 1998. UConn men’s basketball won their first National Championship in 1999 with Richard Hamilton and Khalid El-Amin leading the team. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Allen put UConn men’s basketball on the map by grabbing the nation’s attention, and as a result, UConn was able to recruit more talented prospects and win those first couple of National Championships, jump starting the program.
Allen was absolutely a big part of building the program up to the point that they were able to win a championship after he was gone. However, his influence was more subtle. His teams were a stepping stone in what eventually would become a basketball powerhouse, while Lobo’s team jump started the greatest basketball dynasty at any level in history, with the exception of the 1960s Celtics.
Yes, Allen certainly had a far better professional career than Lobo, but you have to look at their careers differently. I’m not taking away any of what Ray Allen has accomplished, but he was put in a position where he could succeed at the professional level. He was able to leave UConn after three years to be drafted with the fifth overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft. Lobo did not have that luxury.
There was no professional league for her to get drafted into out of college. She had to try out for the women’s national team and won a gold medal in the 1996 Olympics. In 1997, the WNBA was founded and Lobo was one of the first players to be signed. She, along with Olympic teammates Lisa Leslie and Sheryl Swoopes, were arguably responsible for the takeoff of the WNBA and were the first faces of the league.
Lobo only played six seasons in the WNBA and had to retire at 29 due to injuries, but she was a true pioneer of women’s professional basketball. She also set the standard for UConn players to be really well represented at the professional level. Geno Auriemma himself has been quoted with saying that Lobo had the most impact of any player he has ever coached, both during her tenure as a player and after as a board of trustees member and a representative of UConn.
Rebecca Lobo’s name is synonymous with women’s basketball itself, and any player in women’s college basketball or the WNBA would cite her as an inspiration. I don’t believe that Ray Allen has had anywhere near that type of influence on the game of basketball or on UConn.
I agree that we must look at their careers differently. Lobo was able to bolster UConn’s exposure on the basketball stage by directly bringing hardware to the university while playing there, while Allen’s impact was more nuanced and after the fact. However, that isn’t to sell the accomplishments that Walter Ray had while he was at UConn short.
After an impressive freshman campaign scoring 12.6 points per game, he really took a leap in his sophomore season. His second year as a Husky, Allen scored 21.1 per game while shooting six threes per game and making them at a 44.5 percent clip. He also grabbed 6.8 rebounds per game and received the USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year award and was First-Team Big East.
His third and final season, he stepped the unprecedented three-point shooting up another notch. He scored 23.4 per game on 7.1 attempts per game and knocked those deep shots down at 46.6 percent on his way to winning Big East Player of the Year and UPI Player of the Year. That year, the Huskies went 30-2 and won the Big East Tournament. He basically did all but bring home a National Championship. And that led to him being just the third UConn player to be drafted in the top five of the NBA draft.
Allen’s success as a Husky, along with the national exposure he gained over his 19-year NBA career which consisted of 10 All-Star selections and two championships, plus his role starring in a Spike Lee, result in the most impactful player in UConn’s rich basketball history.
Sean Janos is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.
Danny Barletta is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .