A year ago, the Huskies were out of the tournament. Not because they lost in an early round game but because NCAA sanctions barred them from participating. So while Louisville was marching to a national title, then-junior guard Shabazz Napier was doing anything other than watching basketball. It was just too hard.
“To be honest, I didn’t watch, not one game,” he told the ZagsBlog Thursday, a day before the Huskies face Iowa St. in the Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden. “I was more into watching ‘River Monsters’ and stuff like that. I didn’t want to watch because I felt like if I did, I would be aggravated. I just really watched certain TV shows and like I said, I didn’t want to watch.”
Now Napier, who has won jut about every individual honor known to man, has led UConn through the first weekend of NCAA Tournament action and on Friday night they'll meet the Cyclones, the same team that knocked them out of the Big Dance two years ago.
Second-year coach Kevin Ollie thinks the sanctions brought this group closer together.
“The hard work they did to get our school through the downtime, when everybody was saying the school and the program would not make it, those kids dug their heels in and said, ‘Yeah, we are gonna make it,’” Ollie said. “They were loyal to the program and you reap the benefits when you do that.”
“I really appreciate them, my support staff, my coaches, my AD, my president for believing in us that we were gonna make it through.”
As for the Huskies' immediate future, Ollie has complete faith in Napier, the AAC Player of the Year who was also named to several first-team All-American squads.
“I know Shabazz is ready, he’s been ready the whole season,” the coach continued. “He was ready last year when we couldn’t go to the NCAA Tournament. He’s not scared. That’s not to say he’s going to have this great game, but he’s going to do whatever it takes for us to win. That’s rebound, that’s being a facilitator and getting 10 assists, that’s what he’s gonna do. He’s not scared of this moment and we’re not scared of this moment.”