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BY EDDIE RIVERA | As Kentucky super sophomore Doron Lamb prepared himself mentally and physically for the Champions Classic at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15, he knew it was going to be an all-around special day. It was his chance to do his favorite thing — play ball — in the city where he learned the sport and could once again see all of his family and friends.
Asked how he managed the ticket requests from friends, the Lower East Side-born baller said, “Mom has that covered.”
As for the game, he said, he was feeling good with his preparation and growth as a player this season.
“With us being No. 2 Kentucky versus No. 10 Kansas it should be a great game with good energy,” he said.
The tournament featured four top-tier teams, Kentucky, Kansas, Michigan State and Duke. Alumni, family, fans and friends filled M.S.G. to support their teams.
It was my second time seeing Doron play at the Garden. The first was last year at the Jordan Classic.
I was able to see Doron outside of the locker room. He came over and shook my hand, even his handshake had changed. He appeared calm and collected — then again, I am not surprised because he has played in so many pressure-packed games.
In my rounds through the Garden, I approached several Kentucky fans. When I asked them who their favorite player on the team was, about 90 percent replied, “Doron Lamb.” One older gentleman said, “Doron is my favorite because he is combination of quiet and deadly on the courts.” Another fan said, “Isn’t Doron a New York City kid?” Yes, I replied. He went on to say, “But he doesn’t have that extra swagger that most New York players have.” I told him, “His swagger is within, you can see it in his confidence and ability.”
The best part of the game was when Doron sunk a 3-pointer. His fans were on their feet and some held signs with three fingers and the eye in the middle. It’s become Doron’s trademark. I took a photo of the Lower East Side fans that had the three-finger signs for Doron.
Kansas got off to a quick start. The Kansas fans were yelling, “Jayhawks!” The Kentucky fans were yelling, “Go Cats!” Doron drove the lane for 2 and the fans went crazy.
At halftime the score was tied, 28-28. The Wildcats took control in the second half, shooting 16 for 25 from the field. Doron’s explosive play helped break the game open.
Kentucky went on to win, 75-65. Doron was 4-for-8 from the field, including 3-for-5 from 3-point range, with 17 points. He also had four rebounds and one assist in 34 minutes of play.
Afterward, Doron said, “Home sweet home for my family and friends who got to share my moments at M.S.G. I think we made a good statement today. We played against a top team that was ranked and beat them.”
A coach on the Kansas team said, “I really thought they played a lot better the second half and made shots. Lamb got them off to a good start.”
As I was walking out of the Garden, I asked some Kentucky fans, “Are you going out to Connecticut for the Hall of Fame Tip-Off?” They replied, “We travel to every game!” I thought, Wow, Big Blue Nation is a big family. So, it was off to Connecticut with family, fans and friends.
The Connecticut tournament took place at the Mohegan Sun. The teams were not as high-profile — Vermont, L.I.U., Penn State and Old Dominion.
However, Doron noted, “It doesn’t matter who we play, we have to execute and take care of our business.”
In Game 1 against Penn State, Doron got the ball and drove in for a 3-point play. A few plays later, he hit three consecutive 3-pointers — right after he made an attempt to drive, then kicked it out to Terrence Jones for a three. I said to myself what an unselfish and complete player Doron is.
Doron scored a career-high-tying 17 points in the first half and finished with 26 for the game. He’s now averaging a team-high 19.3 points to go along with a 4.3 rebound average, 11 total assists and a 56.3 percent mark from 3-point range.
I love the quote from Coach John Calipari when he someone asked him why Doron is playing so well.
“His motor is going,” Calipari said. “He just has a feel for the game. In my opinion he’s the best 2-point shooter in college basketball.”
Kentucky’s game against Old Dominion was pretty ugly, especially in the post. Kentucky committed a season-high 21 turnovers, but went on to win 62-52. Doron had 8 points and, in the end, was named to the All-Tournament Team.
It was a pleasure to once again watch Doron, who has clearly matured into a wonderful young man. I would also like to thank his parents, Brigitte and Calvin Lamb, for always keeping it real.