Connecticut's Shabazz Napier (13) drives past Rutgers' Kadeem Jack (11) during the second half of Connecticut's 69-63 victory in an NCAA college basketball game in Storrs, Conn., Wednesday, March 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Fred Beckham)
Senior point guard Shabazz Napier won the American Athletic Conference Player of the Week five times this season. So it stands to reason that he would be in the running for Player of the Year honors, too. Interestingly, the other two candidates are also guards, and are also largely responsible for their teams' success: Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick and Louisville's Russ Smith.
"They're all capable of winning," Louisville's Rick Pitino said, via the Hartford Courant. "Kilpatrick, he's the most valuable, if you took him out of Cincinnati, it would hurt them tremendously because they count on him so much at the end of games. Russ Smith is valuable for us, I'm sure UConn would say Napier is very valuable to them. We've been to back-to-back Final Fours, won a national championship, we couldn't have accomplished any of that without Russ Smith."
SMU coach Larry Brown, who has been around the game in some capacity for a half-century, said last month that Napier "was playing as well as anybody in the country. … I can't imagine anybody on any team having as positive an impact on his team as Napier has on Connecticut." By Monday, he had included Kilpatrick and Smith in the conversation, telling the Courant, "I don't know how you chose from those three. It's a very, very tough call to make."
UConn coach Kevin Ollie is obviously partial to Napier, but the former NBA guard also appreciates what it means to play the position at a high level.
"Shabazz is just the heartbeat of our team," Ollie said. "He leads us in all the important categories, minutes played, rebounds, scoring, assists -- he just means so much to our team dynamic. I know Kilpatrick is same way, when they need a big shot, a play to happen, it seems like he's always making it. Big-time players step up to Big-time moments, [Kilpatrick] has done that, not one, two moments but all year. If he got it, it would be a worthy choice."
The winner will be announced Wednesday.