Shabazz Napier named American Athletic Conference Player of the Year
MEMPHIS - On Monday, before No. 21 UConn flew to Memphis for the inaugural American Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Championship, Shabazz Napier told reporters that he didn't care whether or not he won the conference Player of the Year award.
It turns out, Napier knew on Sunday morning what everyone else found out on Wednesday afternoon: that the senior point guard had indeed been named the first ever American Athletic Conference Player of the Year.
Napier is the first Husky to win the award since Hasheem Thabeet was named the Big East Player of the Year for the 2008-09 season. He is the seventh player - joining Donyell Marshall (1993-94), Ray Allen (1995-96), Richard Hamilton (1997-98 and 1998-99), Caron Butler (2001-02), Emeka Okafor (2003-04) and Thabeet - to win the top conference honor for UConn.
"It's definitely, definitely special," Napier said. "I didn't really think about it, but it's definitely a special place to be in, with all those great players that came before me, and I'm just happy that I'm part of that now."
Napier was chosen as the Player of the Year by the coaches of the American. He led UConn to a 24-7 regular season record, including a 12-6 record in the American, setting the Huskies up as the No. 4 seed in this week's tournament, which begins for UConn Thursday night against Memphis (9 p.m., ESPNU).
"I was surprised," Napier said about finding out he had won the award. "Actually, Coach (Kevin) Ollie called me, and I was just waking up. He told me, and I was just surprised.
"Like I said, I don't really care about individual awards. I told him, 'That's nice.' He was like, 'Man, show some excitement.' And I'm like, 'Well, you know how I am.' I'd just rather the team won that award than myself."
During his acceptance speech, Napier thanked everyone behind the scenes - the trainers and managers ¬- as well as his family and coaches for the help they give him, and he stressed that his individual award was more of a team award.
"I wish I was able to break this award into 15 pieces," Napier said. "Without my teammates, I'm nothing."
The senior from Roxbury, Mass. ranked second in the American with 17.8 points per game, 5.2 assists per game and a .877 free-throw percentage. He was third in steals per game with 1.8 per game.
Napier became the only player in UConn history to lead the team in points, assists and rebounds (six per game) all in one season. Along the way, Napier also climbed to seventh on the all-time scoring list (1,790), second in steals (235) and fourth in assists (611).
Along with Louisville's Russ Smith and Cincinnati's Sean Kilpatrick, Napier is also a unanimous All-AAC First Team member, a finalist for the Wooden Award and on the final watch list for the Oscar Robertson Trophy and the Naismith Trophy.
"It definitely could have gone anywhere," Napier said. "I'm thankful for it. I understand we have a great group of guards, a great group of guys. It's definitely rewarding for that. I'm just happy I'm the guy they picked and a member of it."
Seven other major conference awards were presented at Wednesday's luncheon at the Gibson Guitar Center across from FedExForum, the site of this year's tournament. Cincinnati walked away with three awards: Mick Cronin was named Coach of the Year, Justin Jackson won Defensive Player of the Year and Kilpatrick won the Sportsmanship Award. Memphis forward Austin Nichols was named the Rookie of the Year. His teammate, guard Michael Dixon, Jr., was named the Sixth Man of the Year. Louisville's Montrezl Harrell, an All-AAC First Team selection, won the Most Improved Player award. Temple forward Jimmy McDonnell was named the Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
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