Shabazz-Kemba Comparisons Intensify - NBC Connecticut
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Shabazz-Kemba Comparisons Intensify



    It was inevitable, really. There are so many similarities between the 2010-11 championship team, and the upstarts from this year's squad -- right down to the score-at-will floor-leading point guard -- that Shabazz Napier was bound to draw comparisons to Kemba Walker. The real surprise is that it took this long.

    Then again, people who follow the Huskies closely know there are differences between the players; different styles, different demeanors, different ways of getting the job done. Still, at the end of the day, the results have been the same: A lot of winning, even in the face of some pretty long odds.

    Walker left after his junior season, after accomplishing everything there was to accomplish (and doing it all in about a two-month span), while Napier returned for his senior season, even after the program faced NCAA sanctions a year ago that kept them out of the postseason tournaments.

    Now that the Huskies are one of the four biggest stories in the country, the Walker-Napier comparisons are in full effect.

    "I just want to go out there, like I always say, and be myself," Napier said, via the Associated Press. "At the end of the day, he (Walker) took that team to a national championship and I want to do the same. But, I'm going to do it a different pathway and I'm going to be myself."

    Being himself has certainly worked this far. Napier has racked up countless individual awards, including first-team All-American honors as well as the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year. He leads UConn with 18.1 points per game, 5.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists and 1.7 steals, and might be the best player in North Texas right now.

    "He's really smart, knows when to go, when to pass," Florida coach Billy Donovan said Thursday. "I think he understands the length and time of a game. He's played a lot of minutes over his career, he's been in big events and big venues."

    And Ollie, who has watched Napier grow for four years, considers him the heartbeat of this team.

    "Shabazz is a great player, a great leader and that's the one thing I see: he's an extension of me," Ollie said. "I asked him to do a lot. Not only be a facilitator, but score out of necessity when we get down to the thick of the thing, the thick of a moment when he needs to make a play."

    And Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun, who recruited Napier out of Massachusetts and was on the bench back in '10-'11, offered this: "Everybody says I want five guys in double figures. The best guy should take the most shots and that's what we do. You see a guy not having quite a sure shot, give it to Shabazz, let him make a play."

    So far, so good.