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Men's Basketball: Napier a potential coach worth fighting for

By Tim Fontenault
On March 21, 2014

  • Connecticut's Shabazz Napier responds to questions during an NCAA college basketball tournament news conference in Buffalo, N.Y., Friday, March 21, 2014. Connecticut plays Villanova in a third round game on Saturday. AP

BUFFALO - Kevin Ollie and Jim Calhoun may have to go to war with each other one day, assuming that Calhoun does indeed return to coaching and keeps at it until Shabazz Napier's playing career comes to an end, or at least Ollie thinks so.

"If he decides to get into coaching, it's going to be a war," Ollie said at Friday's press conference ahead of Saturday's NCAA Tournament Third Round game against Villanova. "Me and Coach is going to have a sitdown. Hopefully I'll be able to pay him more. (Athletic Director Warde Manuel) will look in his back pocket and pull out a little more money so we can get him on our side."

Napier was asked about the speculation that Calhoun may return to the sidelines, given the recent reports that he is interested in the vacancy at Boston College.

"If he feels like he wants to be back in coaching, then so be it," Napier said. "If he does, wherever he goes, I'm going to be a fan of that team. And hopefully when I'm done with my career he'll give me a job."

Shabazz Napier on the sidelines as a coach? Ollie sees it happening, and he wants to make sure his current captain is on his side of the floor when it does.

"I'm going to play him a little bit more, so he's going to be working for me," Ollie said. "We're going to be fighting for Shabazz whenever he gets into coaching because he's got a great basketball IQ and he knows the game inside and out."

Calhoun is not going to be a coach when that happens. Yes, there is speculation that the Hall of Fame coach from Boston is interested in getting back into the business in Chestnut Hill, but all that speculation proves is that even the emptiest of comments can grow and spread faster than Calhoun can get off an airplane and onto a beachside golf course.

That said, if anyone has the coaching gene, it is Napier. Be it Calhoun, Ollie or any other coach in the country, there are probably very few who would pass up the chance to land the guy who was telling Kemba Walker what to do as a freshman, the year Walker led UConn to a national title and Napier did not make a start.

"I was like, 'What's this little freshman telling Kemba where to shoot at?'" Ollie said. "He just had that moxie about himself."

Like Walker did with him, Napier is now the mentor for the Huskies' younger players, players that will need to step in and fill the shoes of Napier, Niels Giffey, Tyler Olander and Lasan Kromah when the four leave at the end of this season. Napier has spent a lot of time working with Terrence Samuel, whose evolution as a freshman point guard is reminiscent of Napier's during the 2010-11 season.

"I think he got enough fire to motivate guys and get them to the next level, kind of the same gene as (Calhoun) had and I'm trying to have," Ollie said. "It's the same thing."

Napier still has potentially five more games at UConn and a professional career ahead of him before he would make the move to the sidelines, but it is hard to imagine him hanging up his jersey and not moving into coaching.

If and when it happens, there very well might be a war, as Ollie suggests. What Napier's done as a player at UConn has been incredible, but as he said himself Friday, there are intangibles that do not show up on the stat sheet that mean more to him than leading his team in points, assists and rebounds, and those are the things that make him the ideal coach down the road.

"I can see him being a coach," Ryan Boatright said. "He loves the game. He's passionate about the game. He has a good IQ - his basketball IQ is very high. I could definitely see Shabazz being a coach someday, somewhere."

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