Shabazz Napier

Comparing Shabazz Napier, Kemba Walker is unfair but inevitable

Leave a comment
source: Getty Images
Getty Images

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.”

FINAL FOURAll Final Four coverage | X-Factors | Why each team can/won’t win

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.

source:
AP Photo

“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.”

PREVIEWS: Wisconsin-Kentucky | UConn-Florida

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.

Northwestern finds new home for 2017-18

AP Photo
Leave a comment

Northwestern has found a temporary home while its arena undergoes a nine-figure renovation.

The Wildcats will play the 2017-18 season at Allstate Arena, about 15 miles west of Evanston, Ill. in Rosemont, the school announced Tuesday.

“We are excited to partner with Allstate Arena to host Northwestern men’s basketball games during the 2017-18 season while Welsh-Ryan Arena is undergoing its renovation,” Northwestern vice president for athletics and recreation Jim Phillips said in a statement. “The venue has a rich college basketball tradition in the Chicagoland area. I know that our fans will enjoy cheering on our team at Allstate Arena during what will be an exciting season.”

Allstate Arena previously had been home to DePaul, which is moving into its own new building this year. Capacity is around 18,000 for basketball.

Northwestern had its best season under coach Chris Collins last year, going 20-12 overall and 8-10 in the Big Ten.

The renovation to Welsh-Ryan Arena will bring the building – which opened in 1952 and last renovated in 1983 – into the 21st century by replacing wood bleachers, widening concourses, adding concessions, improving arena technology and adding new locker rooms at the cost of at least $110 million.

Construction is slated to begin in spring of 2017 and be completed in the fall of 2018.

George Washington tabs Maurice Joseph interim head coach

GW Athletics
GW Athletics
Leave a comment

George Washington announced on Tuesday that Maurice Joseph has been named interim head coach for the 2016-17 season.

“I am eager and well prepared to begin this journey with the 13 student-athletes in our locker room and the tight-knit group of coaches that I will rely upon heavily,” said Joseph. “It is a distinct honor to have the opportunity to be a mentor to our team in this new role. I have the utmost confidence that I will validate the trust that Provost Maltzman and Patrick Nero have placed in me, and that we will deliver a product that makes our students, alumni and fans across the globe proud of GW Basketball and the university.”

Joseph has been a part of the GW coaching staff for the last five years, a full-time assistant for the last three.

He takes over for Mike Lonergan, who coached Joseph for three years at Vermont. Lonergan was fired two weeks ago stemming from an investigation into allegations of abuse.

Lonergan’s other two assistants, Hajj Turner and Carmen Marciariello, both were interviewed for the position as well, according to sources. Turner had been Lonergan’s associate head coach for the past five years, since Lonergan took over at GW.

“In his five years at GW, Maurice has shown himself to be selflessly dedicated to the success of our student-athletes and fully committed to our department and university,” said Nero, GW’s athletic director. “His leadership ability and basketball acumen will bring focus and stability to the talented team we have this year. Our team, basketball staff and athletic department are looking forward to working together for a successful season.”

2016-17 CBT Expert Picks

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 10:  Head coach Mike Krzyzewski hugs Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils after he fouled out against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during their 84-79 overtime loss during the quarterfinals of the 2016 ACC Basketball Tournament Verizon Center on March 10, 2016 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images
Leave a comment

We are now less than six weeks away from the start of the college basketball season, which means that it is time for us to officially get our picks on the record.

Here, our four writers pick who we think will win each league, the national title and the major awards:

screen-shot-2016-09-19-at-6-56-13-pmscreen-shot-2016-09-19-at-6-56-49-pmscreen-shot-2016-09-19-at-6-57-17-pm

CBT Podcast: Listen as we put together the NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

We figured that it wasn’t enough just to simply list out who was on our All-America teams and who was our National Player of the Year, not when the decision is so wide open. Not when there are so many worthwhile candidates.

So while you can go and see the NBCSports.com Preseason All-American team here and you can read our feature story on Duke’s Grayson Allen, the NBCSports.com Preseason National Player of the Year, here, you can also listen along as we try to hash out just who we wanted slotted in which spot.

Because we recorded it all on a podcast.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher, Audioboom or anywhere else that podcasts are given away for free.

If you enjoy what you hear on this podcast, please rate and review the podcast, as it will help us reach more listeners.

Thanks for listening!

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

NBCSports.com 2016-17 Preseason All-American Team

Leave a comment

PRESEASON NATIONAL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Grayson Allen, Duke

Picking the Preseason National Player of the Year this season was not an easy thing to do. This year’s freshman class will rival the Class of 2013 — Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle, Aaron Gordon, etc. — in terms of overall talent, and there are a number of newcomers entering into a situation in which they should be able to shine. Hell, there are two potential No. 1 picks and a third projected lottery pick on Duke’s roster this season, and none of them are named Grayson Allen.

But the reason we picked all for this award is actually pretty simple: He’s the best player on the best team in the country. Don’t believe me? Think about this: As a sophomore, his first season playing consistent minutes at the collegiate level, Allen averaged 21.6 points, 4.6 boards and 3.5 assists while posting a 61.6 true shooting percentage. That hasn’t been done by a high major basketball player since 1993, which is as far back as the CBB Reference database has statistics. As far as I know, it’s never happened before by a player at the high major level. For comparison’s sake, when Damian Lillard was a senior at Weber State, he was one of the three other players to post those stats.

And Allen did it while playing in a conference that sent six teams to the Sweet 16 and two to the Final Four last season.

You may hate him, but you cannot deny that the kid can flat out play.

RELATED: A Different Shade of Grayson

Washingtons Markelle Fultz, USA Basketball
Washingtons Markelle Fultz, USA Basketball

FIRST TEAM ALL-AMERICA

Markelle Fultz, Washington: Fultz was one of just two other guys that we truly considered for Preseason Player of the Year. He’s the current favorite to be the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft and, given Washington’s uptempo style of play, he has a chance to post massive numbers. The biggest question mark here is whether or not the Huskies are going to be good enough to dance; to win the award on a team that’s not a national title contender is hard to do. It’s only happened three times in the last two decades, and all three of those winners — Doug McDermott, Jimmer Fredette and Kevin Durant — averaged more than 26 points. McDermott and Fredette were on teams that earned No. 3 seeds in the NCAA tournament.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Hart was the third player to get serious consideration for National Player of the Year. He’s the guy that is most likely to have a Buddy Hield-esque, breakout senior season. As a junior with the Wildcats, Hart averaged a team-high 15.5 points and 6.8 boards, playing an integral role in Villanova’s small-ball attack. His ability to attack the glass and playing bigger than his 6-foot-5 frame will be even more important for Jay Wright’s club this season as they deal with a lack of size on the interior, but the key for Hart’s long-term future will be his three-point shooting. He made 35.7 percent of his threes last season and 46.4 percent the season before, but that was on relatively limited attempts and his flat shot and awkward release makes it tough to project him as a floor-spacer at the next level. Did he put in the work this offseason to make a jump the way Hield did last season?

Josh Jackson, Kansas: Jackson was ranked the No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2016 by a number of outlets, and there are still people that believe he’ll eventually be the best NBA player out of this group. A freak athlete like Andrew Wiggins, Jackson is a bit more polished and a whole lot tougher than Wiggins was a freshman. It’s not crazy to think that he can match Wiggins’ output (17.7 points, 5.9 boards, nation’s top perimeter defender), and considering Kansas is a preseason top five team, that puts him firmly in the All-America discussion. But here’s what will limit him: If Carlton Bragg makes the improvement many expect him to, Jackson’s offense may be cut into, and considering there are a pair of alpha-dogs that will be the guys called on to make big shots in key moments, it’s hard to see him having any “Wooden Moments”.

Ivan Rabb, California: We went with Rabb as the nation’s best big man this season. Like Fultz, Rabb could end up playing on a team that doesn’t reach the NCAA tournament. That’s concerning, but there’s a real chance that Rabb could end up averaging 18 points and 10 boards this season. Last season as a freshman, he averaged 12.6 points and 8.5 boards playing as a tertiary option on the offensive end. He would have been a lottery pick had he opted to declare for June’s NBA Draft.

TCU guard Michael Williams (2) defends as Iowa State guard Monte Morris (11) leaps to the basket for a shot in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in Fort Worth, Texas. Morris had 18 points and six assists and No. 19 Iowa State followed a win over top-ranked Oklahoma with a 73-60 victory over TCU on Saturday. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Iowa State guard Monte Morris (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

SECOND TEAM ALL-AMERICA

Monte’ Morris, Iowa State: Morris is in an interesting situation this season. For the past three years, he’s defined himself as the model of point guard efficiency, a facilitator who makes big shots when he has to but who excelled as running a team and creating for the guys around him. This year? That talent around him is depleted, meaning Morris will be asked to become more of a volume scorer. We expect him to embrace that role and excel in it.

Dennis Smith Jr., N.C. State: Smith tore his ACL last August, forcing him to miss his senior season of high school. But the injury meant that he was able to graduate high school early, enroll in college in January and spend the majority of his rehab time doing so with the Wolfpack trainers. The result? He’s returned from the injury as good as new, which is important considering the fact that so much of what makes Smith dangerous is his explosiveness. A potential top five pick, Smith is talented enough that he could take a perennially under-achieving team to the NCAA tournament.

Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga: You may not recognize this name. A former top 30 recruit, Williams-Goss transferred out of Washington after an all-Pac 12 season as a sophomore. He sat out last year as a transfer and will step in to the starting point guard role this season. Gonzaga lost Kyle Wiltjer and Domas Sabonis, but with the talent they have returning — and becoming eligible this season — the Zags have the look of a top ten team, and we expect Williams-Goss to be their engine.

Austin Nichols, Virginia: Nichols is going to be the star for this year’s Virginia team, which is once again a contender for the ACC title. As a sophomore at Memphis, the former McDonald’s All-American averaged 13.4 points, 6.7 boards and 3.4 blocks. He spent last season redshirting at Virginia and learning the system, which he is a perfect fit for. He’s a better big man that Anthony Gill, and Anthony Gill was one of the most underrated players in the country last season.

Thomas Bryant, Indiana: Bryant is another guy that had a chance to be a first round pick last season but opted to return to school. He had a promising first year in Bloomington, but it came with typical freshman mistakes: He was lost early in the year, especially on the defensive end. But Bryant has the tools, he plays extremely hard and he’s young for his grade; he was born five months after Josh Jackson.

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks (AP Photo/John Locher)

THIRD TEAM ALL-AMERICA

Dillon Brooks, Oregon: Health is the big question with Brooks, and the reason that he’s a third-teamer instead of being in contention for the first team. Brooks has a foot injury, one that Oregon has already said could keep him out at the start of the season. If healthy, he’s a junior that averaged 16.7 points, 5.4 boards and 3.1 assists last season for a preseason top five team.

Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson: Blossomgame had a chance to leave college and head to the NBA Draft this spring, but he opted to return to school for his senior season. Blossomgame is certainly talented enough to be on this list — he averaged 18.7 points last season — but without the hype of a guy like Smith or Fultz, will he be able to get the Tigers to be a good enough team that people will play attention to him?

Jayson Tatum, Duke: The Blue Devils are the most talented team in the country, and trying to predict where production is going to come from in that offense is tough. Tatum is one of the best pure scorers in college basketball this season, but there’s a real possibility he could end up being the third or fourth leading scorer on this team. The good news? Jabari Parker and Brandon Ingram thrived in the role he’ll play. The bad news? Harry Giles III may be the best player on Duke come March.

Alec Peters, Valparaiso: Peters is the best player at the mid-major level in the country, a kid that graduated from school in three years and had the chance to leave for literally any other program in the country. He didn’t. He opted to stay at Valpo, where he’ll be the centerpiece of new head coach Matt Lottich’s offense. It’s not crazy to think he could average 23 points.

Bam Adebayo, Kentucky: Who is going to be Kentucky’s leading scorer this season? It’s tough to figure out, right? Our money is on Adebayo, their 6-foot-10 center. He’s a freak athletically with more of a face-up game than he gets credit for. Given the lack of perimeter shooting for the Wildcats this season, Adebayo will be asked to carry much of the load.

Bam Adebayo (Photo by Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images)
Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo (Photo by Roberto Serra/Iguana Press/Getty Images)