With the UConn incoming freshmen -- and the high expectations that accompany them to Storrs -- as well as Jeremy Lamb's ascension into the role formerly occupied by Kemba Walker, it's easy to forget about Shabazz Napier. But if the Huskies are going to have any chance to repeat what they accomplished last season, Napier will play a critical role.
We've talked plenty about how replacing Kemba is slightly more involved that adding another name to the starting lineup. And Napier fully understands that. From a post we wrote earlier this month:
"I won't say I can replicate what [Walker] 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."
And while it's dangerous to draw too many conclusions from a highlight video, we've already seen what Napier can do. His play during the final month of the season allowed for Walker to take mid-game breathers, something he wasn't able to do earlier in the year.
Plus, watching Napier compete in the Boston Semi-Pro league is a reminder of just how good these guys are. He might not have started for the Huskies as a freshman, but he's clearly the best player on the court below.
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"It was a two years ago this same month when Napier started making a huge name for himself down in Florida at Nationals. For the coaches, it was a surprise, but for us locals, it seemed long overdue; it was pretty much proclaimed from an early age he was the Next One. He was the kid who always was at all the big tournaments running on the court during timeouts and halftime to shoot and doing dribbling drills impressing the crowd."
Napier is still impressing the crowd, except now he's doing it during the games. We don't expect that to change anytime soon.