Men's Basketball Notebook: Napier, Giffey and Olander close UConn careers with two national titles
The UConn men's basketball team celebrates after winning the 2014 national championship with a 60-54 win over Kentucky Monday night at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
ARLINGTON, Texas - Three years ago in another football stadium not too far away from here, Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander celebrated just like they did Monday night.
Like that run in 2011 under Kemba Walker, this one seemed just as improbable. But for these three guys who stuck together through all the troubles and turmoil, the 2014 title tasted so much sweeter.
"This is a lot more rewarding," Olander said. "Freshman year I was just kind of going with the flow, really just following in Kemba's limelight. This year, I can sit back and enjoy more, at the same time, it's just as outstanding."
"I can't even compare these two experiences because it's so different for me personally," Giffey said. "Coming from another country and not knowing anything about NCAA basketball. I'm going on this huge journey with Kemba, getting all the media attention. It was a very different year and a very different experience for me.
"This year, we had to step up, become leaders and eventually close this year out, leading this team to a championship," said Giffey, who scored 619 points and shot 42.4 percent from 3-point range during his career at UConn.
The trio has gone through virtually everything a collegiate basketball player can go through in four years.
From winning a title in their freshman year, to getting ousted in the first round the year after, then a major coaching change amid a postseason ban in 2013, what Napier, Giffey and Olander went through was an experience that can be unrivaled by any other.
So much so that Napier wanted to remind people just how hard they had to work to get back into the conversation of college basketball again.
"We hungry," Napier said. "When you prevent us from trying to go to the postseason, and it wasn't our fault, we worked hard since that day on... I just wanted to grab everybody's attention and introduce the 'Hungry Huskies,' because it's been two years."
Napier and company left quite an impression by becoming only players in UConn men's basketball program history to win multiple titles. They are also the only players in NCAA men's basketball history to bookend their collegiate careers - winning in freshman and senior years - with national championships.
"It's unreal," said Olander, who finished his UConn career with 383 points and 350 rebounds in 134 games played. "Just to be part of such a historic program, to be the first guys to win two championships, it's something special."
A program like UConn has also seen plenty of distinguished guards in its history, such as Khalid El-Amin, Ray Allen, Rip Hamilton and Walker, just to name a few. Napier, too, will go down as one of the best and most important players in school history.
He will finish as the all-time leader in games played with 143, most free throws made with 507, third place in scoring with 1,959, third in assists with 649 and second in 3-pointers made with 260.
"As a leader, sacrifice, toughness, just whatever you want as a point guard, winner," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said on what he'll remember about Napier. "He's just a remarkable young man from Roxbury."
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