Napier Ready for the Responsibility

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Conference realignment will continue to dominate the headlines for the foreseeable future, but while university bigwigs decide what's best for their respective schools, there are actual sports to be played. The UConn football team is headed to Buffalo this weekend, the latest game in their quest to find a starting quarterback.

And while we're roughly a third of the way into the football season, we're about six weeks away from the men's basketball team beginning their national title defense. Behind them will be a drama-filled offseason that started with the national championship victory over Butler and ended with Andre Drummond committing to Storrs and coach Jim Calhoun announcing he'd hang around for a while longer.

For the national media, Drummond is now the face of the team. But if UConn has any chance of going back-to-back, it won't happen because Drummond is on the floor. Don't get us wrong, having him dominate in the paint on both ends of the floor certainly won't hurt, but winning teams all have one thing in common (and it's not an imposing big man): fantastic point-guard play.

A year ago, Kemba Walker was that and then some because not only did he run the offense, he also did most of the scoring, too. This season, that job falls to sophomore Shabazz Napier, who found himself in the perfect situation as a freshman: Calhoun had enough depth that he didn't have to force Napier on the floor before he was ready. Instead, he could pick and choose when Napier played, and let him develop at his own pace. By the time the postseason rolled around, Napier proved to be a critical piece to UConn's backcourt.

Now it's his team.

Unlike Jeremy Lamb, who appears ready to assume the title of UConn's Next Great Scorer, Napier didn't represent his country this summer, though it wasn't from lack of trying.

He was the last person cut from the Team USA roster for the World University Games. Coach Matt Painter went instead with Syracuse's Scoop Jardine, Pitt's Ashton Gibbs, and Detroit-Mercy's Ray McCallum as his guards.

“It was disappointing, and also surreal, just because I haven’t been cut from a team in a while,” Napier told the New Haven Register's David Borges earlier this week. “It motivated me in a good way, but not in a way that I don’t like Coach Painter or the USA team. It didn’t do that. It just made me want to push harder. At the end of the day, I didn’t get chosen for the team because my presence wasn’t felt as much. I wasn’t being myself. So, I’ve been out here to help that motivate me and get my team going.”

Which is good news for what the Huskies want to accomplish in 2011-12. And while no competitor ever wants to sit on the bench, Napier's freshman season should serve him well now.

“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. “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.”

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