Shabazz Napier should be in New York making a run at another Big East tournament title with his University of Connecticut teammates. As a freshman, the guard was part of that special 2010-11 squad that made a stunning run through the NCAA Tournament all the way to the national championship with a victory over Butler.
Instead, Napier is in Storrs, the Huskies’ season over because of a below-average academic progress rate that led the NCAA to ban the school from postseason play for the 2012-13 season. The Huskies also changed coaches, with three-time national champion Jim Calhoun replaced by former player Kevin Ollie.
Bolting was an option for Napier, as it was for Alex Oriakhi, who left for Missouri, and Roscoe Smith, who chose UNLV. But Napier said he had no intention of leaving the school, and the Roxbury native turned in a first-team all-Big East campaign as a junior.
The point guard is now pondering whether to declare for the NBA draft, which is expected to be the weakest in years, or return to finish out his Connecticut career in the revamped Big East. It won’t be an easy decision for Napier, who attended Charlestown High School and Lawrence Academy before signing with the Huskies.
“It’s tough being at home, because I’m watching the game and can’t do nothing about it,” he said. “I can’t go out there and play, nothing can change, and that makes it tough, but I got myself mentally ready for this when I decided to stay at the university even though we had all these sanctions.
“We wanted to send a message that even though we’re going through these huge obstacles, we still can overcome them by staying together.”
Had they been eligible, the Huskies would have made the tournament with a 20-10 mark and 10-8 Big East record. UConn beat Michigan State, Notre Dame, Syracuse, and Cincinnati, with Napier as the team’s leading scorer.
“I’m a loyal person,” said Napier. “My mother taught me loyalty over everything, and it’s always good to be loyal to somebody.
“I told Coach Calhoun that I was going to be loyal to him no matter what happens. I was here during the national championship and I was here during the bad times. I wanted to try to make something good out of it. Personally, it was just tough because I didn’t know how the team was going to react or how I was going to react.”
The future is uncertain for Napier, who turns 22 in July. After averaging 17.1 points, 4.6 assists, and 4.4 rebounds, he’s projected as a second-round pick or perhaps could go undrafted. A banner senior year would improve his stock.
“I actually talked to Coach Ollie the other day and told him I haven’t weighed any options,” Napier said. “My first option right now is to finish out school. I want to get my degree as quick as possible. I want to be ready for anything.
“I know my mother wants me to get my degree, that’s why I took classes in the summer since my freshman year. If I enter the draft, I am not going to forget about that.
“It is a tough decision. I am going to talk to Coach Ollie and Coach Calhoun, the right people, and make the right decision.”
Raptors move step by step
The Raptors are fighting the 76ers to stay out of last place in the Atlantic Division, but the Raptors are banking that this transition season — the beginning of the Rudy Gay era, perhaps the ushering out of Andrea Bargnani, and definitive defensive improvement — is the beginning of a return to respectability.
Toronto was once on the verge of reaching the NBA Finals when Vince Carter was there. Chris Bosh came along but was never able to carry the snake-bitten franchise any further than the first round of the playoffs, and this will be the fifth consecutive season the club is lottery-bound.
Because of the acquisition of Gay, a potential star, and the nucleus of DeMar DeRozan, Amir Johnson, and Kyle Lowry, the Raptors are not such a laughingstock. And general manager Bryan Colangelo is cautiously optimistic about developing a winner north of the border.
“We started a process 2½ years ago when Chris left, and rebuilding’s not fun, not for the faint of heart,” he said. “But you know, you take these steps and you try to put yourself in a position to make steps.
“I think by virtue of us being real patient and strategic the last couple of years, this past summer we had a chance to pick up Kyle in a deal, and we had a chance to follow it up with [Gay]. That doesn’t happen if we had done something differently with Jose [Calderon] last year.”
The Raptors packaged Calderon in deal with Memphis and Detroit to acquire Gay. Calderon had been the subject of trade rumors for several years.Continued...