ROUNDBALL DAILY

UConn’s Shabazz Napier is following in Kemba Walker’s footsteps

Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright

AP Photo/Jessica Hill

Alright, so picture this.

A star UConn point guard is carrying his group of talented but somewhat inexperienced teammates in a big game against a big-time opponent. He’s played 35 minutes, scored 24 points on 9-of-15 shooting, and has already hit a Watch-ESPN-like “cluuuuutch” three-pointer that resulted in a four-point play with 30 seconds to go.

His team is down 1 with less than 10 seconds left, but everyone in a packed Gampel Pavillion has total confidence that he’s going to come through for them, just like he did last game. And the game before that.

He brings the ball up the floor, deftly escapes a double-team, and launches a shot from the right wing. It doesn’t fall, but he collects his own miss, and with less than a second to go, unleashes a picture-perfect jump shot from the free throw line.

All net.

Buzzer sounds.

Game over.

If that sounds familiar, you may remember a man of relatively short stature who just three years ago ruled the Connecticut campus like a modern-day king.

That man’s name was Kemba Walker.

This kid Shabazz might be the heir to his throne.

AP Photo

This Napier dude is starting to look a lot like Kemba out there. (AP Photo)

Napier finished with 26 points on Monday night in carrying UConn to a 65-64 win over No. 12 Florida. He scored the final six points of the game for the Huskies, including that memorable buzzer-beater, which he celebrated by storming off the court and taking the entire Huskies team and, almost, the entire student section with him.

(My laptop almost met Steve Jobs in the mayhem).

This was Napier’s signature moment as a Husky, and he signed it with the confidence and sure-handedness of an NBA vet who’d been running his team for years. If this performance didn’t remind you of Kemba, you’re not a Huskies fan. Either that, or you need to get your memory checked, son.

Napier downplayed the Kemba comparisons after the game. “That would mean I’d have to bring this team to a national championship,” he said. “Those are some really, really big shoes to fill. I’m just focusing on what we’re doing each game and trying to get better every time out.”

Asked if coming through in the clutch was something Kemba had passed down to him, like some kind of basketball virtue or family heirloom, Napier said:

“Ever since I was growing up, I’ve always wanted to be that guy who was in the right spot at the right time, to take the shot at the end of the game.”

But if such clutch-ness can be passed down from upperclassman to freshman, either taught in Mr. Miyagi-like wisdom sessions or socialized through osmosis, Napier has picked up on the lesson.

He’s Kemba Jr., with back-to-back game winners to prove it.

Coach Kevin Ollie said Napier’s Monday heroics reminded him of another Huskies great.

“It reminded me of Rip Hamilton when he hit that shot to beat Washington in the Sweet 16,” Ollie said. “The ball was tipped around and then there he was for the fallaway at the buzzer.”

Napier didn’t agree.

“That shot was much more epic that my shot,” he said. “That was a crucial shot. My shot was good, but that was a tremendous shot that they needed to get to the Elite Eight.”

“I don’t hear anybody saying “Napier!!! Napier!!!” like they said “Hamilton!!! Hamilton!!!,” he said.

Give it three months, Shabazz.

It’s not like they don’t already know your name.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.