2012--13 RECORD 20--10 BIG EAST 10--8 (T-7TH) WHAT'S BACK MINUTES: 88.1% POINTS: 92.4% REBOUNDS: 75.8%
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 while he doesn't keep what he 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 6'1" 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.
Projected Lineup (2012--13 STATS)
PG SHABAZZ NAPIER*
SR. 6'1" 17.1 PPG 4.6 APG
SG RYAN BOATRIGHT*
JR. 6'0" 15.4 PPG 4.4 APG
G OMAR CALHOUN*
SOPH. 6'6" 11.1 PPG 3.9 RPG
SF DEANDRE DANIELS*
JR. 6'9" 12.1 PPG 5.5 RPG
PF TYLER OLANDER*
SR. 6'10" 4.3 PPG 3.7 RPG
G-F NIELS GIFFEY
SR. 6'7" 4.9 PPG 3.6 RPG
C AMIDA BRIMAH‚Ä†
FR. 7'0" 15.7 PPG 11.6 RPG
‚Ä†HIGH SCHOOL STATS
KEVIN OLLIE (2ND SEASON)
SIHow proud are you of what the players accomplished last season?
KO They focused not only on basketball, with getting 20 wins, but academically. They were like, We're never gonna put another Connecticut basketball team in this position if we have something to say about it. I was more proud of them for that.
SIIs the team excited about the faster tempo?
KO Sometimes they're not excited about getting on the baseline and running, but that's what you have to do if you're going be a running team.
SIWhen players ask you about your NBA career, what do you tell them?
KO You try to tell these guys that it's not as easy as Kevin Durant and LeBron make it look. KD, after every practice, he'll work out for 35 to 40 minutes hard on his game. At no practice did I ever see him walk out without getting his extra work in. Sometimes they don't even ask for those stories—I just give them to them.
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ROUND OF 64
PORTER BINKS (OLLIE)
MICHAEL HICKEY/GETTY IMAGES (NAPIER)
DAMIAN STROHMEYER/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (MASCOT)