Kemba Walker left for the NBA after leading the Huskies to an improbable national title in April 2011. He was a junior, had accomplished everything college had to offer, and the next logical step was the pros. Jeremy Lamb headed for the NBA after just two seasons, and Andre Drummond left after one. But for Shabazz Napier, the Huskies senior point guard, staying in Storrs has turned out to be the best move he didn't make.
Napier was there for the highs -- the national title -- and the lows -- the NCAA sanctions -- but now that he's college career is coming to an end, he knows gutting it out was the right decision.
"It's just how life is," Napier told the Associated Press Tuesday. "You go through a lot of obstacles in life to get where you want to be. To be successful, everybody thinks the path is just straight ahead. There's a lot of obstacles. There's a lot of rivers, a lot of mountains you have to pass."
Napier and Tyler Olander, Niels Giffey and Lasan Kromah will be honored Wednesday night before UConn takes on Rutgers.
"Their loyalty, what they showed the program in the midst of adversity, the character that they showed, the leadership that they showed when we was in a difficult time, really means a lot to me," coach Kevin Ollie said. "We needed those guys to stay and they stuck with us."
A season ago, when the Huskies were ineligible for the postseason, Napier played a big role in the team winning 20 games. In fact, while other players transferred out of the program or left for the NBA, Napier dug in his heels, telling then-coach Jim Calhoun that he wasn't going anywhere.
"The transformation of him just as a person behind the scenes has just been unbelievable," Olander said. "He's grown so much. It's hard to put into words what he's done on the court and his growth off the court has been ever more remarkable."
And that experience -- and Napier's leadership -- has had a lot to do with the team's success this season. And this is about more than a game, Napier is also a really good student.
"He didn't come back for basketball, primarily he came back for his degree," Giffey said. "That's something you've just got to respect as a friend and as a man."