Shabazz Napier is in the unenviable position of replacing all-everything point guard Kemba Walker at UConn this season, but his task is not impossible—mainly because the job description has changed. Instead of being a superstar, Napier needs to be only a facilitator as the Huskies begin their quest to repeat as national champions. "If I don't score, that's fine," Napier says. "I'd rather see my teammates on SportsCenter."
Walker, a highlight-reel staple and the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player, averaged a team-high 23.5 points (fifth in the nation) and was the leading scorer in 35 of UConn's 41 games before leaving for the NBA. In his absence the scoring burden is one that Napier—a Big East all-rookie selection who averaged 7.8 points, 3.0 assists and 23.8 minutes last season—will literally pass off.
"If I have a shot, I'll take it to keep defenses honest," he says. "If not, I'll penetrate and find the open man. That's who I have to be for us to win games."
His options are plentiful. Freshman Andre Drummond, a 6'10" center and certain 2012 lottery pick, committed to UConn in August and will join returning starters Alex Oriakhi (11 double doubles last season) and Roscoe Smith (21 steals, most among post players) in a frontcourt that figures to be a matchup nightmare at both ends of the floor. Swingman Jeremy Lamb, the top returning scorer and another all-rookie selection last season, is poised to become the Huskies' go-to scorer. His fellow big men will set screens to get him open looks beyond the arc and backdoor cuts for alley-oops.
"They'll make my job easier," says Napier, a 6'1", 171-pound motormouth from Roxbury, Mass., who's already differentiated himself from his soft-spoken predecessor.
Coach Jim Calhoun sometimes greets Napier by holding an index finger to his lips, preemptively shushing him, but following the annual 3½-mile Husky Run around campus in mid-October the coach praised his outspoken point guard in the Connecticut Post for embracing his role as UConn's floor general and being "more of a leader than Kemba."
"Our offense isn't going to be one guy scoring lots of points," Napier says. "For us to make another run at a title, it's in my hands."
At least until he puts the ball in someone else's.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
COACH Jim Calhoun (26th season)
2010--11 RECORD 32--9 BIG EAST 9--9 (T-9th)
NCAA TOURNAMENT National champion
*High school stats
REBOUNDS PER GAME for the Huskies (10th in the nation in 2010--11). With six players who average 6'9½" and 229 pounds, they will again boast one of the country's deepest frontcourts.
Andre Drummond matures quickly and becomes the offensive focal point, and the Huskies are the first repeat champions since Florida in 2006--07.
The offense struggles early, and any chance at chemistry is ruined when too many players try to carry the team the way Kemba Walker did last year.
SHABAZZ NAPIER A supremely confident point guard, he will get the ball to UConn's big men, who are some of the best in the nation.