Napier Poised for Big Season - NBC Connecticut
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Napier Poised for Big Season

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The impact of losing Kemba Walker can't be overstated. He was a leader in every sense of the word and it's not an exaggeration to suggest that he had everything to do with the Huskies winning a national title in April. So, naturally, UConn will not only miss Walker, who has since taken his game to the NBA, it must find the players -- plural -- who will replace him, too.

    It's probably accurate to say that Walker is irreplaceable, but if recent signs of progress are any indication, UConn will be in great shape in the fall. Jeremy Lamb is one of the best players on the Under-19 US National Team, and Shabazz Napier looked like a completely different player during informal team workouts last week.

    While it's probably unwise to put too much stock in pickup games, Napier, along with Alex Oriakhi, attended the Nike Skills Camp in Chicago earlier this summer and both players were impressive.

    Like most freshmen, Napier struggled with consistency at times last season. He now sounds wise beyond his years.

    "Our biggest problem coming up this year is learning how to play without [Kemba]," Napier told ESPN.com's Eamonn Brennan last week.

    "I won't say I can replicate what he did," Napier said. "But one thing he taught me and the rest of our team is the value of hard work. You go out there and give it your all, no matter what. Every practice we had, he practiced like he was a guy that was trying to make the team. He's the star of our team, but you looked over at him and he was always pressing himself, challenging himself. It was like he was a walk-on. …

    "A lot is going to be put on my shoulders this season," Napier added. "I'm the floor general now. Last year I learned to work hard, to be patient, to listen to the coaches at all times -- that's stuff Kemba did. Now I just have to put it all on the floor and make the most of the opportunity."

    Oriakhi will also have plenty of responsibility, but he understands that the offense starts with the point guard.

    "People forget that Shabazz was just a freshman," Oriakhi said. "He had a chance to work with one of the best guards in the country every day for an entire season. He's still learning not to be so turnover-prone, to not try to make the big play all the time, and I've seen him get better. I think he's going to be one of the best point guards in the country next year."

    And Oriakhi might not be far off. Napier quietly had a solid freshman campaign, especially during the postseason. It's just that his performance was sometimes lost in the mix because he played with Walker and Lamb. But that won't happen this year, not if the Huskies are going to be successful.