Shabazz Napier

Comparing Shabazz Napier, Kemba Walker is unfair but inevitable

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NEW YORK — For Shabazz Napier, there’s no sense in fighting it. The comparisons are coming whether he likes it or not. That’s simply what is going to happen when an All-American point guard carries a team on a deep run through March three years after another All-American point guard, Kemba Walker, carried the same program on a deep run through March.

Fair or not — it’s not, for the record — they are going to come flooding in as we get closer and closer to college basketball’s biggest stage, and for now, it seems as if Napier has accepted that fact even if he’s unlikely to embrace it.

“That’s for you guys to say. I don’t know. I’m just here trying to play basketball,” Napier said after his No. 7 seeded Huskies won the East Regional title with a 60-54 victory over No. 4 Michigan State on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. “Of course I’m going to be compared to him because what he did when he was here was just tremendous. It’s never going to be done again. I’m not out there trying to replace what he did.”

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Napier, who hails from Boston, is right in one respect: What Walker did may never be replicated. He led a UConn team that was stocked with freshmen and sophomores to five wins in five days en route to a Big East tournament title and followed that up with six wins in three weeks, the last of which was a 53-41 victory over Butler in the national title game. That’s 11 wins in less than four weeks in the month of March.

That’s unheard of, and it’s one of the biggest reasons that Walker ended up being the No. 7 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft. It’s the single biggest reason that he will go down as arguably the most popular UConn Husky in the history of the storied program that Jim Calhoun built.

And it’s an impossible standard to try and hold Napier up to, especially when a very valid argument can be made that getting this UConn team to the Final Four is a more impressive accomplishment than Walker leading that 2011 team to a title. But at least we are comparing apples to apples here. What the duo has been able to accomplish on the court is at least similar, whereas their demeanors and skill sets differ substantially.

Walker is a freak of an athlete, one of the quickest and most athletic point guards in the NBA these days. He blows by people, using his jump shot as a counter to keep defenses from sloughing off of him. Napier’s game is much more crafty. I think he can dunk, but I’ve never actually seen him dunk in a game. He’s quick, but he doesn’t have sprinter speed. His biggest skill is his ability to keep an defender off balance and read which way his opponent is leaning. His biggest strength is his basketball IQ and savviness.

Walker is as gregarious as a kid can come, blessed with the kind of larger-than-life personality that can only be bred in the Bronx. His smile is infectious and his charm is contagious. Napier is quieter, more introverted. His approach to the game is workmanlike, and what defines him, as Calhoun put is, is “his incredible self-belief” and his ability to instill that belief in others.

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“These kids would follow him across the desert for a drink of water,” Calhoun said. “As much as any single other thing, Shabazz led this team. You could see him talking to them. His swagger, his positive arrogance about how good they are translates to every other player out there.”

That wasn’t an easy thing for Napier to develop, either.

He couldn’t have taken over the program at a more difficult point in time.

Napier was a freshman on the 2011 team that won the title. He was the sidekick to Walker in the back court, the point guard that allowed Calhoun to use Walker off the ball. He played a major role in bringing home UConn’s third championship banner and he was expected to take over the role that Walker vacated when he left for the NBA. Throw in the fact that UConn had a roster that included Jeremy Lamb, Andre Drummond, Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith in Napier’s sophomore year, and UConn entered the preseason as a consensus top three team.

And it all went to hell.

The Huskies were a mess during Big East play, eventually flaming out of the first round of the NCAA tournament as a No. 9 seed. A lot of the blame got pinned on Napier that season. He was supposed to be the leader, and he wasn’t leading. As the saying goes, a point guard’s most important stat is his winning percentage. The issue, however, was that Napier simply didn’t know how to lead. He didn’t know how to differentiate between yelling and motivating. He didn’t know how to react to players laughing off a loss. He didn’t yet understand that every person is going to handle losing a different way, and while every loss was, for him, as bad as it could get, he couldn’t grasp that it was possible to be as competitive as he was without being as demonstratively distraught after a disappointing performance.

“He wasn’t mature enough,” Calhoun said. “He had to fine tune who Shabazz was. He tried to lead at a time when he couldn’t lead. Following Kemba Walker? That’s a tough act to follow. He wasn’t as good sophomore year when I coached as he should have been. Last year under Kevin he started to blossom a little bit. This year, that great Shabazz gave himself to his teammates.”

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Shabazz long ago climbed out of the shadow cast by Kemba and his national title. He did it when he led last year’s team to 20 wins despite the fact that there was no tournament waiting for them as the end of the season. He did it when he turned himself into an All-American this season. He did it with all of the big shots that he’s made throughout his career.

He may look like Walker from afar, and he may end up accomplishing the same thing, but the two differ as much as their accents.

“A lot of the things I do is what he did, because I learned from him,” Napier said. “He made it there, but I’m just out here trying to be myself and create my own path.”

There is one thing that Napier indisputably has in common with Walker, however: When he leaves UConn, he is going to be a tough act to follow.

CBT Podcast: Reactions to the NBCSports Player Rankings

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We’re rolling through our 2016-17 Season Preview package, and in the last week we churned out all our player rankings: From the top 100 players to the best back courts.

Top Backcourts | Top Frontcourts | Top 100 Players

POSITION RANKS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wings | Big Men

In today’s CBT Podcast, we took a look at our biggest misses, biggest regrets and the decisions that got the most pushback.

CONFERENCE PREVIEWS: Big 12 | ACC | Pac-12 | Big Ten

Subscribe to the CBT Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or Audioboom

Virginia’s Austin Nichols suspended

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Austin Nichols has been suspended for Virginia’s two exhibition games and their regular season opener for a violation of team rules, the program announced on Friday evening.

Nichols, a transfer fro Memphis that sat out the 2016-17 season, will miss a Nov. 11th tilt against UNC Greensboro.

Nichols was rated as the No. 12 player in the country in NBCSports’ top 100 player rankings. He was named a second-team preseason all-american as well.

Sun Belt Conference Preview: Remember the name Kevin Hervey

Texas-Arlington's Kevin Hervey, left, reacts to a 73-68 NCAA college basketball game win as Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate looks on  in Columbus, Ohio, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)
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Beginning in September and running up through November 11th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2016-2017 college hoops preview package.

Today, we are previewing the Sun Belt Conference.

The Sun Belt has had quite a bit of talent come through the ranks over the course of the last three or four years. In 2014, it was Elfrid Payton playing his way into the lottery and coming within a couple of minutes of upsetting No. 3 seed Creighton and Doug McDermott in the first round of the NCAA tournament. In 2015, it was R.J. Hunter that became a first round draft pick after hitting a game-winning three to upset No. 3 Baylor – and knock his dad out of his chair. And last season, Arkansas-Little Rock was turned into a 30-win team by Chris Beard, who departed for Texas Tech by way of UNLV after upsetting Purdue in the first round of the Big Dance.

In other words, there is always talent in this league, and this season will be no different.

The star that you need to be paying attention to this season resides at UT-Arlington. His name is Kevin Hervey. A 6-foot-7 forward, Hervey was generating attention from NBA scouts with a terrific start to his sophomore season when he tore his ACL while warming up for a showdown with Little Rock last winter. At the time, Arlington was coming off of wins over Memphis and Ohio State and looked like a real mid-major threat. The good news? Arlington brings back their entire starting lineup, including Hervey, who is expected to be back to 100 percent by the time the season gets into full-swing. There’s no reason that the Mavericks can’t make the kind of run that Little Rock made last season.

Speaking of Little Rock, losing Beard is going to hurt. Wes Flanigan is a local guy that had been on the staff for five years over two different tenures, but he’ll have his work cut out for him replacing Josh Hagins, whose heroics spawned the upset of Purdue. Marcus Johnson Jr. and Lis Shoshi will be asked to play bigger roles while transfers Oliver Black (Mississippi State) and Dayshawn Watkins (Florida State) will play major minutes as well.

Ron Hunter has made his name at Georgia State by relying on transfers, but that also means he has had to adapt to dealing with turnover every year. This season is no different, as the Panthers have to replace three starters. They do return Jeremy Hollowell, however, and the former Indiana Hoosier has the talent to challenge for Sun Belt Player of the Year.

Louisiana is not only going to have to replace Shawn Long, one of the best to ever play in the Sun Belt, and Kasey Shepard, a 1,000-point scorer, they’re going to have to do it with the death of incoming freshman Herman Williams hanging over the program. Williams died of a heart attack while working out this summer. Cliff Ellis started his four-decade coaching career in the Sun Belt and he’ll likely end it there as well as Coastal Carolina move to the conference this year. Ellis has a veteran backcourt that led the Chanticleers to a 12-6 mark in the Big South last season.

If there’s a sleeper in the league it’s Arkansas State. Devin Carter, the league’s second-leading scorer, returns, as does Donte Thomas, one of four players nationally to average 11 points, 5.5 assists and 5.5 boards. Keep an eye on Georgia Southern as well as Tookie Brown may be the best scorer in the conference and the Eagles return five starters that were freshmen or sophomores. Troy and South Alabama will be in the mix for a top-six finish thanks to Wesley Person and Ken Williams, respectively.

Appalachian State has a good sophomore class that Jim Fox needs to come of age quickly as he tries to replace three starters on a team that finished 7-13 in the league. Danny Kaspar is known for building programs from the ground up, but in year four at Texas State, the Bobcats haven’t finished above .500 yet. ULM finished second in the league last season but they lost four starters.

MORE: 2016-17 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule



The Sun Belt always has at least one guy whose names bounces around NBA Draft circles and this season it is Hervey, whose torn ACL derailed what could have been a special season for the Mavericks. With everyone back, a healthy Hervey is a scary thing for opponents to hear about.


  • Tookie Brown, Georgia Southern: The former Mississippi State commit averaged 17.8 points as a sophomore.
  • Jeremy Hollowell, Georgia State: The former Hoosier is one of the most talented players in the league.
  • Erick Neal, UT-Arlington: The Mavericks have a chance to have a special season and Neal is the engine that makes them run.
  • Marcus Johnson Jr., Little rock: Someone needs to step-up with Beard and Hagins gone.



1. UT Arlington
2. Georgia State
3. Georgia Southern
4. Little Rock
5. Louisiana
6. Coastal Carolina
7. Arkansas State
8. Troy
9. South Alabama
10. ULM
11. Texas State
12. Appalachian State

Talented Kentucky begins another year with high expectations

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 21:  The mascot of the Kentucky Wildcats in action against the Cincinnati Bearcats during the third round of the 2015 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KFC YUM! Center on March 21, 2015 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) Kentucky coach John Calipari once again must figure out how to use his latest talented freshman class, which this year is big and fills voids at many positions.

All of which means another season of high expectations at a school where a national championship is always the standard.

After finishing 27-9 and losing in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32 last spring, Kentucky appears capable of contending for a ninth NCAA title. This despite losing six players including several regulars such as Associated Press All-American guards Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray, who combined to average 37 points per game last season, and 6-foot-11 Skal Labissiere.

Kentucky landed guards De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, both 6-foot-3 high school All-Americans who join sophomore Isaiah Briscoe (9.9 points, 5.3 rebounds per game) in the backcourt. All can handle the ball and shoot, giving Calipari some options, compared with last year’s squad run by Ulis.

“This team will probably have three guys having the ball, and we’ll play off them,” Calipari said. “One may have it more, but the other two are going to have it a significant amount of time. So that makes it different.”

But this recruiting class is all about the bigs with the additions of Edrice “Bam” Adebayo and Sacha Killeya-Jones – a pair of 6’10” All-Americans – and 6’9″ Wenyen Gabriel.

Adebayo has an NBA body and is fierce around the basket on both ends of the floor. Killeya-Jones and Gabriel are long and guard the rim as well.

The Wildcats also return size with 7-footer Isaac Humphries and 6’10” redshirt freshman Tai Wynyard, giving Kentucky its tallest frontcourt since the 38-1 team that reached the Final Four two years ago. Nobody’s making that grand comparison yet as the team works to form chemistry.

“We all want the same dream, so we just try to accomplish it together,” Monk said. “It’s easy to sacrifice if you have great players around you.”

Other things to watch in Kentucky this season:

MATURE BRISCOE: Isaiah Briscoe worked out with NBA teams last spring to gauge his pro prospects before returning for his sophomore season . He’s more seasoned by the experience, and more muscular. The biggest benefits might be his improved shooting – which Kentucky needs from him after an inconsistent freshman season – and his eagerness to lead. “It forced me to grow up,” Briscoe said of the process. “Being one of the few guys to come back (under Calipari), I’ll be able to lead these guys.”

BLUEGRASS GRAYBEARDS: Kentucky has seniors for the second straight season, both of whom could play bigger roles. Forward Derek Willis is working to add defense to his game after averaging career bests of 7.7 points and 4.4 rebounds last season and becoming part of the rotation. Guard Dominique Hawkins just aims to stay healthy after his junior year was limited by injuries. He’s a physical defensive specialist being encouraged to shoot more this season.

COACH’S KID: If things get loud in Rupp near the end of a Kentucky rout, it might be fans clamoring for Calipari to put his son, Brad, on the floor. The 6-foot freshman is a walk-on with an eye toward coaching one day but figures to become a fan favorite for obvious reasons.

RENOVATED RUPP: The Wildcats’ home begins its 40th anniversary season with a new floor and center-hung scoreboard and video screen that has replaced the “Big Bertha” bank of loudspeakers, which resembled an oversized pine cone. The arena has already added high-definition video boards in the corners and other electronic features to enhance the game experience.

KEY GAMES: Kentucky’s always-tough nonconference schedule includes matchups against Michigan State on Nov. 15 in the Champions Classic; a home game against UCLA (Dec. 3); consecutive contests against North Carolina (Dec. 17) and at archrival Louisville (Dec. 21); and a Jan. 28 home game against Kansas in the SEC/Big 12 Challenge.


See what NC State freshman did to Abdul-Malik Abu’s arm

SYRACUSE, NY - FEBRUARY 27:  Abdul-Malik Abu #0 of the North Carolina State Wolfpack drives to the basket as DaJuan Coleman #32 of the Syracuse Orange defends during the first half on February 27, 2016 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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Rebounding can be a war at times. Even when it involves teammates.

NC State junior forward Abdul-Malik Abu, one of the best rebounders in the nation, showed up to ACC Media Day in Washington, D.C. earlier this week with battle scars from a recent drill with freshman forward Ted Kapita.

“When you’re battling for rebounds, there’s a lot of hand movements,” Abu said, according to Aaron Beard of the Associated Press. “And he has nails, so he’s just kind of like slicing through.”

Abu told reporters he had the first-year forward cut his nails shortly after the incident.

The 6-foot-8 Abu, the ACC’s top returning rebounder, averaged 12.9 points, 8.8 boards and 1.3 rebounds per game as a sophomore last season. Kapita is ranked as four-star recruit by Rivals.

The Wolfpack were picked to finish sixth in the loaded ACC.