Skip to content

Comparing Shabazz Napier, Kemba Walker is unfair but inevitable

Apr 2, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT

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. Duncan Robinson, of D-III Williams College, considering transfer to Michigan, Davidson

    Jul 30, 2014, 9:25 AM EDT

    AP AP

    Rising sophomore forward Duncan Robinson played his freshman year at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, but could be on the move for next season.

  2. A flooded Pauley Pavilion reopened in 2012 after $136 million in renovations

    Jul 29, 2014, 10:14 PM EDT

    Pauley Pavilion

    UCLA reopened Pauley Pavilion in 2012 after $136 million worth of renovations.

  3. Coach K: ‘I do not see an end of my road in my college coaching’

    Jul 29, 2014, 8:30 PM EDT

    Mike Krzyzewski AP

    Mike Krzyzewski is entering his 40th season as a head coach.

  4. Doug Wojcik’s attorney releases video of player assault allegations

    Jul 29, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT

    AP AP

    Doug Wojcik has been investigated twice by the College of Charleston.

  5. John Calipari’s return to Kentucky ‘solely’ due to loyalty to his players

    Jul 29, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT

    Getty Images Getty Images

    Cal told The Sporting News that he couldn’t leave behind the guys that decided to return to school. Do you buy it?

  6. Willie Cauley-Stein sheds light on injury he suffered in NCAA tournament

    Jul 29, 2014, 5:22 PM EDT

    AP AP

    A former UK coach gave his listeners some new details about Willie Cauley-Stein’s injury.

  7. Another mixtape for Malik Monk, the most exciting player in HS (VIDEO)

    Jul 29, 2014, 4:27 PM EDT

    NikeEYB NikeEYB

    Malik Monk is a dream come true for the mixtape makers.

  8. Report: SMU sold nearly $350,000 worth of booze at basketball games

    Jul 29, 2014, 3:46 PM EDT

    AP Photo AP Photo

    And now they’re considering selling it at football games.

  9. UCLA announces what appears to be a solid non-conference slate

    Jul 29, 2014, 1:50 PM EDT

    alford Getty Images

    The Bruins will be tested by the time Pac-12 play rolls around.

  10. UAB’s leading scorer will not be returning to the program

    Jul 29, 2014, 11:55 AM EDT

    AP Photo AP

    Chad Frazier was arrested back in April.

  11. USA Basketball announces the final cuts to their U17 team

    Jul 29, 2014, 11:34 AM EDT

    USABasketballlogo

    Another surprise cut was made at the point guard spot

  12. The other side of the July live period: Recruits continue to strive for attention and offers

    Jul 29, 2014, 10:12 AM EDT

    Trevon Mollison (Drew Ebanks/OnPointBasketball) Trevon Mollison (Drew Ebanks/OnPointBasketball)

    Beyond the glitz and glamour of the highest levels of AAU basketball are kids fighting to land one of a few coveted scholarships.

  13. Louisville’s Akoy Agau out indefinitely after surgery on Tuesday

    Jul 29, 2014, 9:31 AM EDT

    @Akoy22 @Akoy22

    The procedure wasn’t know until Agau took to social media.

  14. Wisconsin receives Final Four rings (PHOTOS)

    Jul 28, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT

    Bo Ryan AP

    Wisconsin got some pretty cool rings for making the Final Four.

  15. Five-star 2016 forward Harry Giles looks healthy after knee injury (VIDEO)

    Jul 28, 2014, 8:45 PM EDT

    Harry Giles

    After tearing his ACL less than a year ago, Harry Giles looks healthy and prepared to battle for No. 1 in the Class of 2016.

  16. Northwestern head coach Chris Collins will coach USA Basketball Select Team

    Jul 28, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT

    Chris Collins AP

    Northwestern head coach Chris Collins will be working with pros this summer.

  17. Seven takeaways from AAU Nationals and Super Showcase

    Jul 28, 2014, 5:45 PM EDT

    (Scott Phillips/NBC Sports) (Scott Phillips/NBC Sports)

    Seven thoughts are a weekend at AAU Nationals and Super Showcase in Louisville.

  18. Washington lands a commitment from Jermaine Haley

    Jul 28, 2014, 3:36 PM EDT

    DRIVE Basketball DRIVE Basketball

    Haley is the first member of Washington’s 2016 recruiting class.