Skip to content

Comparing Shabazz Napier, Kemba Walker is unfair but inevitable

Apr 2, 2014, 7:30 PM EST

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.

Latest Posts
  1. West Virginia shows signs of progress in Puerto Rico Tipoff win over No. 17 UConn

    Nov 23, 2014, 9:57 PM EST

    Bob Huggins Bob Huggins

    West Virginia has better depth and toughness than they had a season ago, and those improvements paid off in Puerto Rico this weekend.

  2. #POSTERIZED: Texas A&M-Corpus Christi’s John Jordan takes flight (VIDEO)

    Nov 23, 2014, 8:55 PM EST

    John Jordan, Miles Reynolds John Jordan, Miles Reynolds

    The 5-foot-10 guard has a standing vertical of 38 inches. That’s pretty good.

  3. Rutgers’ Kadeem Jack scores 13 points in first action of the season

    Nov 23, 2014, 8:10 PM EST

    Kadeem Jack, Chris Hooper, Antonio Jenifer AP

    Kadeem Jack missed the first two games of the season with a thumb injury.

  4. New Mexico guard breaks bone in his hand during loss to Texas A&M

    Nov 23, 2014, 6:55 PM EST

    Peyton Allen, Arthur Edwards Peyton Allen, Arthur Edwards

    With Cullen Neal already dealing with an ankle injury, Arthur Edwards is the latest Lobo dealing with a health issue.

  5. Reserve big man one of four UConn players suspended for violation of team rules

    Nov 23, 2014, 5:34 PM EST

    Hunter Ware, Ryan Boatright Hunter Ware, Ryan Boatright

    Rakim Lubin was averaging five minutes per contest in UConn’s first three games.

  6. Danuel House’s Texas A&M debut a successful one in Puerto Rico

    Nov 23, 2014, 5:16 PM EST

    Danuel House, Nick Russell, Nic Moore AP

    House scored 18 points, shooting 7-for-11 from the field, in Texas A&M’s 64-51 win over New Mexico.

  7. Yale forward Matt Townsend named a Rhodes Scholar

    Nov 23, 2014, 3:55 PM EST

    (Yale athletics/dspics.com) (Yale athletics/dspics.com)

    Yale forward Matt Townsend was named a Rhodes Scholar this weekend, a rare honor only give to 32 American students each year.

  8. POSTERIZED: Welcome to the 2014-15 season, Danuel House (VIDEO)

    Nov 23, 2014, 2:41 PM EST

    Danuel House AP

    Danuel House made his presence felt immediately for Texas A&M.

  9. Assigned Reading: Oakland’s Tommy McCune has overcome a lot while showing flashes of great play

    Nov 23, 2014, 2:10 PM EST

    tommy mccune Getty Images

    Oakland forward Tommy McCune had to overcome the loss of his mother after she lost her battle with cancer, but he’s shown flashes of great play early this season as he moves forward.

  10. Four-star 2015 big man cuts his list to three then visits SEC powerhouse

    Nov 23, 2014, 12:00 PM EST

    (Nike) (Nike)

    One of the best unsigned players in the 2015 class is down to three schools but then visited another school on Friday night.

  11. POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Larry Nance Jr. throws down an alley-oop in traffic

    Nov 23, 2014, 11:00 AM EST

    Larry Nance (AP Photo) AP

    Looks like Larry Nance Jr. is fully recovered from last season’s ACL injury.

  12. Division III school makes buzzer-beating three-pointer against same opponent in back-to-back years (VIDEOS)

    Nov 23, 2014, 10:00 AM EST

    NCAA Men's Final Four - Practice Getty Images

    This is one of the wildest buzzer-beaters I’ve ever seen and the back story makes it that much more incredible.

  13. Pregame Shootaround: Tip-Off Tournaments and some ranked teams headline Sunday

    Nov 23, 2014, 9:10 AM EST

    AP AP

    Tournament action resumes on a busy Sunday of college hoops.

  14. Quinn Cook is thriving as an off-guard, and No. 4 Duke will reap the benefits

    Nov 23, 2014, 3:56 AM EST

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Concerns about Cook moving off the ball seem foolish through five games.

  15. Late Night Snacks: Rhode Island, Wyoming pick up big home wins

    Nov 23, 2014, 2:00 AM EST

    Rhode Island's E.C. Matthews (0), Nebraska's Shavon Shields (31) AP

    No. 21 Nebraska was the lone ranked team to fall on Saturday, but give them credit for being willing to go on the road to play a dangerous opponent.

  16. Indiana’s Devin Davis in attendance for team’s win over Lamar (VIDEO)

    Nov 23, 2014, 12:05 AM EST

    Landon Atterberry Devin Davis AP

    Devin Davis has been rehabbing from injuries suffered on November 1 when he was struck by a car driven by teammate Emmitt Holt.

  17. Duke’s Justise Winslow jumps over Stanford’s Chasson Randle (VIDEO)

    Nov 22, 2014, 11:33 PM EST

    Justise Winslow Justise Winslow

    Most people already knew that Winslow’s a high-level athlete. Here’s some evidence for those who somehow didn’t.

  18. Rhode Island pays tribute to Nebraska assistant coach’s son (PHOTOS)

    Nov 22, 2014, 11:22 PM EST

    Terrence Payne Terrence Payne

    Before their game against No. 21 Nebraska, Rhode Island took the floor in shirts honoring Avery Harriman.

  19. Two key Florida players declared questionable for Battle 4 Atlantis

    Nov 22, 2014, 9:44 PM EST

    Angel Rodriguez ,Eli Carter,Manu Lecomte Angel Rodriguez ,Eli Carter,Manu Lecomte

    Florida faces Georgetown in the opening round of the Battle 4 Atlantis Wednesday.