Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Connecticut's Shabazz Napier smiles after cutting the net after a regional final against Michigan State in the NCAA college basketball tournament Sunday, March 30, 2014, in New York. Connecticut won the game 60-54. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
NCAA: UConn’s Napier trying to shed Walker’s shadow
First Published Apr 04 2014 09:23 am • Last Updated Apr 05 2014 05:26 pm

Arlington, Texas • Shabazz Napier can shoot, drive and dish, hit big shots, pick off passes, carry a team down the stretch of a game and a season.

Sounds an awful lot like another recent Connecticut star: Kemba Walker.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

Playing with the poise and confidence he learned from his mentor three years ago, Napier has followed Walker’s footsteps but created his own path while leading the Huskies back to the Final Four.

"He’s really smart, knows when to go, when to pass," Florida coach Billy Donovan said Thursday from Cowboys Stadium. "I think he understands the length and time of a game. He’s played a lot of minutes over his career, he’s been in big events and big venues."

Walker had one of the great runs in college basketball history, leading the Huskies through five wins in five days in the Big East tournament and a carry-them-on-my-back trip through the NCAA tournament.

On that team was a confident freshman point guard who was still willing to ask questions, taking his opportunities when they arose, learning what he didn’t know from Walker and the other Huskies. Napier played in every game that season, averaging 23 minutes, 7.8 points and three assists.

Flash forward three years and Napier has another title within his sights.

UConn must first get through Florida (36-2), the tournament’s top overall seed, in one national semifinal Saturday night at Cowboys Stadium.

After that, the Huskies (30-8) would have to beat Kentucky or Wisconsin on Monday night to win championship No. 4.

Finish it off and Napier will secure a spot in history — alone.


story continues below
story continues below

"I just want to go out there, like I always say, and be myself," Napier said. "At the end of the day, he (Walker) took that team to a national championship and I want to do the same. But, I’m going to do it a different pathway and I’m going to be myself."

That the path is similar to Walker’s has led to the comparisons.

Walker was — well, still is — a slender point guard who was part scorer, part facilitator, beyond-his-size rebounder, defensive menace, clutch shooter.

The description fits Napier well.

A 6-foot-1 senior, he could have left the program after UConn was barred from the NCAA tournament last season for failing to meet academic standards. He stuck it out instead and returned to lead UConn with 18.1 points per game, 5.9 rebounds (tied with DeAndre Daniels), 4.9 assists and 1.7 steals.

Clutch? Napier hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer to beat Florida — the Gators’ last loss before running off 30 straight wins — and scored nine of his 24 points in UConn’s overtime victory over Saint Joseph’s in the Huskies’ NCAA tournament opener.

Napier also is an 86-percent free-throw shooter and at his best when the game is on the line, making all nine of his attempts — three huge ones in the closing seconds — in UConn’s Final Four-earning win over Michigan State in the East Regional final.

Napier is arguably the best player among these Final Four teams.

"Shabazz is a great player, a great leader and that’s the one thing I see: he’s an extension of me," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "I asked him to do a lot. Not only be a facilitator, but score out of necessity when we get down to the thick of the thing, the thick of a moment when he needs to make a play."

That’s where Napier may be the most like his mentor.

During Walker’s junior season, he hoisted the Huskies on his back, scoring an almost-unthinkable 130 points during the five days of the Big East tournament, and kept it going by practically willing UConn through the NCAA tournament.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.