The West Regional championship game Saturday between Arizona and Connecticut at Honda Center will have more than a little New York attitude and swagger.
Arizona's Lamont "MoMo" Jones and Connecticut's Kemba Walker, opposing point guards, grew up friends and spent two years as teammates at New York Rice High.
"In practice we would go at it," Jones said. "He would score, then I would score. Elbows would be flying. Trash would be talked."
Now they will try to knock each other out of the NCAA tournament.
"Man, I haven't been on the same court with MoMo, or even seen him, in a long time," Walker said. "This is going to be special."
Jones, who grew up in Harlem, left Rice after his sophomore season to transfer to Ashton (Pa.) American Christian High. He said he needed to get out of New York.
Jones' family lived in a neighborhood "that was not great," he said. His father was shot and killed when Lamont was 8.
"It was right down the block from our house," Jones said. "Every day I had to walk over the place where he took his last breath. My leaving wasn't about basketball."
Arizona brought Jones, Derrick Williams and Solomon Hill to meet with the media Thursday night after upsetting top-seeded Duke.
The Wildcats might as well have saved a spot on the dais for Tim Floyd.
The three players who had once committed to play for Floyd at USC combined for 61 points and 21 rebounds during Arizona's 93-77 victory, leaving little doubt where the Wildcats might be had the trio not switched allegiances in the wake of Floyd's resignation as Trojans coach two years ago.
"I think he really did do us a big favor," Hill said Friday. "He gave us 'MoMo' Jones and D-Will and that was huge. I couldn't tell you where Arizona would be right now if we didn't have those two.
"It just goes to show that you never know what could have happened if Tim had stayed and where he would be as USC's head coach."
Over at USC on Friday, associate head coach Bob Cantu, a former Floyd assistant, took a guess at where they'd all be: "We'd probably still be playing," he said.
Floyd recently completed his first season at Texas El Paso, guiding the Miners to a 25-10 record after a loss to New Mexico in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
Shake 'em up
Lute Olson, the only coach to guide Arizona to a national championship, delivered congratulatory handshakes Friday.
"He came to breakfast and said hello to everybody, shook hands and let them know how proud he was of us," forward Jamelle Horne said of Olson, who retired in 2008 because of health concerns. "If he could, he would still be on the sideline coaching, but he still shows his face and that's very important to us."
Times staff writers Ben Bolch, Chris Foster and Baxter Holmes contributed to this report.