Last summer Shabazz Napier took up a new hobby. Armed with a secondhand fishing rod and after years of wildlife viewing on TV, the point guard ventured to a lake near the Storrs campus to cast his first line, only to leave hours later without a nibble. But with a few pointers from local anglers, Napier's subsequent excursions proved productive: He recently reeled in a 12-pound bass. And although he releases his catches, he gets plenty from the experience. "One thing [fishing] will definitely do," the senior says, "is teach you patience."
Luckily for the Huskies, Napier hasn't lacked that virtue. Though he flirted with transferring after Jim Calhoun's retirement in September 2012, Napier stayed in Storrs -- despite UConn's postseason ban for a poor academic progress rate -- and led the team in points, assists and steals. "I couldn't have asked him to do anything more," coach Kevin Ollie says.
Now eligible for the NCAA tournament again, UConn needs the savvy Napier and blink-quick backcourt mate Ryan Boatright to focus on increasing the Huskies' pace. (Their adjusted tempo ranked 194th in D-I last season.) That starts on defense, where the two guards will pressure the ball to help create turnovers. And when UConn's possessions get bogged down in the half-court, Napier and Boatright, both aggressive penetrators capable of scoring and distributing, will spearhead an expanded free-flowing, read-and-cut offense.
The Huskies ranked in the nation's bottom fourth in offensive and defensive rebounding percentage last year (the 6-foot-1 Napier was second on the team with 4.4 boards per game) -- which is a problem for a team that wants to run. But help is on the way in the form of 7-foot Ghanaian center Amida Brimah and 6-9 four-star Jamaican-born forward Kentan Facey, both freshmen. They may be just the kind of catches UConn needs.
KO: It means the world to me, but I'm not standing here because I was good. I'm standing here because everybody around me was good and they allowed me to be here. That's what I think about all the time: my great coaching staff that allowed me to be here, allowed me to coach and do the different things I did last year, and also my players that had loyalty to this program in the most difficult situation to stay behind me and this great university.