Despite the school’s recent misfortunes, Connecticut Huskies junior Shabazz Napier isn’t shying away from taking on a leadership role.
After winning the NCAA Championship as a freshman with the Huskies in 2011, Napier was looked at to be a leader in his sophomore season. His numbers improved across the board but Connecticut had an up and down season, barely getting entry into the NCAA Tournament. Napier was looked at to be the Huskies 2012 version of Kemba Walker, an incredible team leader and the go-to player for coach Jim Calhoun in the run to the 2011 championship. However, asking the sophomore to step into Walker’s shoes was asking too much, and with 2012 NBA first round picks Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond also not being leaders, Connecticut was inconsistent at best by its standards.
“I take full responsibility for last year,” Napier told Jeff Goodman of CBSsports.com. “I wasn’t ready to be a leader. I didn’t know how to talk to teammates the right way. We all make mistakes as leaders.”
Napier might not have been able to fill Walker’s shoes in the leadership department but he did manage to stay productive on the court. A year ago, he averaged 13 points, 5.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds, even having a triple-double on Nov. 20. Proving that he is capable of getting his teammates involved with 14 games of seven or more assists.
“I’m going to be different this year,” Napier said. “I think I’ve matured as a leader, but it doesn’t mean anything until I go out and do it.”
Going out and doing it with the Huskies wasn’t something Napier was sure he still wanted to do after coach Calhoun announced his retirement. Then came the post-season bans for 2012-13 that even includes no Big East Tournament.
“I was shocked when Coach retired,” Napier said. “At that point, I was scared. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I saw it coming, but I didn’t. It was the hardest week of my life.”
He could have transferred like senior Alex Oriakhi did when he went to the Missouri Tigers. Instead Napier decided to stick around when assistant coach Kevin Ollie was given a one-year contract to be the new head coach.
“We all feel like he should have gotten a longer contract,” Napier said. “We also feel like we need to win games for him.”
Connecticut isn’t close to as intimidating as previous years and pre-season predictions show it by having them picked to finished ninth in the Big East. Still, Napier isn’t going to back down even when there’s no post-season to play for. When his back was against the wall and he could have ran, he chose to stay and help rebuild the program.
Before the season has even tipped off, Napier has already shown he’s matured into a leader.