NBA Draft: Shabazz Napier embraces team concept

NBA Draft: Shabazz Napier embraces team concept
June 17, 2014, 10:30 am
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Mark Strotman

After making his run through the NCAA Tournament look easy, Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier admits what he's facing now is difficult.

No longer part of that Huskies team that won 32 games and became the second-lowest seed, No. 7, to win a national championship, Napier is on his own as he goes through the NBA draft process, attempting to show franchises what he offers.

"It’s tough, but at the same time it’s a challenge," he said at last month's NBA Combine. "It’s something I understand, it’s something I was looking forward to, seeing how talented I am. Of course I know how good I am individually and especially as a team. It’s just another way for the organizations and general managers to see. But at the end of the day, I don’t play 1-on-1. I’m a team player and I try my best, and good things happen."

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Great things happened for the 6-foot-1 guard in his final season in Storrs. The Huskies touted 26 wins, including six over ranked teams, into March Madness, where they knocked off a No. 2 seed (Villanova), No. 3 seed (Iowa State) and No. 4 seed (Michigan State) en route to the program's fifth Final Four. There, Napier and the Huskies knocked off the overall No. 1 seed Florida Gators and a red-hot Kentucky team that began the season as the No. 1 team in the country.

Napier was superb in the run, averaging 21.1 points and 4.5 assists in six games. He also tallied 15 steals, made 20 of 43 3-pointers (46.5 percent) and was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. It capped a roller coaster of a journey for Napier, who arrived as a freshman in 2010 and watched Kemba Walker's own heroics that led the 2011 Huskies to a national championship. Connecticut lost in the second round in Napier's sophomore season and the following season the Huskies were ruled ineligible for postseason play for poor academic performance.

Players were allowed to transfer without penalty - some did - but Napier stayed, choosing to ride out his sophomore season with no chance for a tournament run and come back with a strong group in 2014. That happened, and Napier justified his decision to stay...and then some.

The quintessential "team player," however, Napier's now on a new journey to show he can recreate his March magic and process it into helping an NBA team win a championship. Still, during his own personal endeavors he's still showing off his ability to play within a team.

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"You kind of compete with each other individually as if it’s a 1-on-1," he said of his pre-draft workouts," but it’s a 5-on-5 game, and it’s who can help a team out best, not who can help themselves out best."

Napier is undersized at just 6-foot-1 but his outside shot, competitive nature defensively and obvious have him as a projected first rounder. It's not dissimilar to Walker, who was selected No. 9 overall and this past season averaged 17.7 points and 6.1 assists in helping the Charlotte Bobcats to the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.

Yet for as good as his skill set is, when asked by reporters at the combine what he'll bring to an NBA franchise, it was his intangibles that Napier brought up first.

"My knowledge of the game on the court, definitely, my knowledge of the game off the court," he said. "Just somebody that’s loyal, somebody that’s going to give everything he’s got. I compete no matter what, and somebody that’s going to do whatever the coach says because I understand that I don’t come before the team."