We talked last week about Shabazz Napier's expanded role for the 2011-12 UConn basketball team now that Kemba Walker is in the NBA. In 12 months he's gone from a starry-eyed, rough-around-the-edges freshman who had to learn on the fly (and made plenty of mistakes while doing so), to one of the Huskies' leaders heading into his sophomore season.
And with experience comes maturity, which will be just as important to any success UConn has this season as the actual talent Jim Calhoun puts on the floor (and there will be plenty of that, too).
“If I just came in this year as a freshman, I don’t think I’d be that guy, because I wouldn’t have seen what Kemba did unless I watched it on TV,” Napier said last week. “Kemba taught me throughout the season, on and off the court … how his character was. He taught me to be a leader on and off the court, he put me in the right position.”
The Hartford Courant's Dom Amore asked Napier recently about following Walker as the Huskies' point guard and his answer was both thoughtful and revealing.
"Kemba was more than just a teammate," Napier says, "he was like a brother. I can't be Kemba Walker, I have to be who I am. But I learned things from him that I'm going to try to implement into my game. I was with him and watched him do things that were historic, so why wouldn't you want to follow in those footsteps?"
In related news, here's a nifty profile of Jeremy Lamb, who President Obama described as the "anti-Shabazz."
Makes you wish the season started today.