When Connecticut, under former NBA player and second-year head coach Kevin Ollie, was given a No. 7 seed for this NCAA Tournament, not many prognosticators gave the Huskies a good chance to win it all, as the team lost twice to non-tournament SMU and Houston all just in conference play during the regular season.
However, once March Madness set in, UConn rolled through a brutal stretch of games en route to the Final Four and eventual National Championship. The Huskies beat, in order No. 10 St. Joseph’s, No. 2 Villanova, No. 3 Iowa State, No. 4 (and popular champion choice) Michigan State, No. 1 Florida, and then, finally, took down No. 8 Kentucky last night to win the title.
A balanced and relatively deep team, UConn was led by senior point guard sensation Shabazz Napier and junior forward DeAndre Daniels, both of whom are predicted to be selected in this June’s NBA Draft.
Napier averaged 21.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 4.5 assists on 46/47/94 shooting in UConn’s six big wins, and hit tons of enormous threes and other acrobatic shots along the way. Daniels added 16 points and 7.2 boards per contest while junior Ryan Boatwright put up 13.7 points in a team-high 37 minutes a game.
It is clear, though, that Kevin Ollie’s best player, his go-to guy, is Napier, who is generously listed at 6-foot-1 on both ESPN’s and UConn’s player profile sites of him and is probably shorter than that. He may not be the biggest guard on the floor, but the way he manages his team and consistently makes important, clutch plays late in games is something certain to get him NBA attention, even if it comes outside of the draft’s lottery portion.
This style of play is common from UConn’s point guards, as Kemba Walker, now on the Bobcats, was very similar to Napier during his time in Storrs in terms of how both possess a flair for the dramatic during win-or-go-home games.
Granted, the NBA is a much different animal than the NCAA is, and Shabazz would go up against much bigger guards in the pros as opposed to in college, where he has been matched up with less-talented and smaller guards.
Still, one trait coaches can’t teach is toughness, which Napier has an excessive amount of, evidenced by his relentless drives to the hoop throughout the tourney which drew fouls but also some hard hits for his small frame.
This guy holds nothing back in between the lines, but is admittedly not as physically gifted as other point guards expected to be in this summer’s draft, like Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, UCLA’s Zach LaVine, and Syracuse’s Tyler Ennis. That is why he will not be a top pick, but most likely will go later in the first round or early in the second.
And whichever team can snag someone of his caliber at that point in the draft would be getting a huge steal.