Men's Basketball: Shabazz Napier ends career with second title, legendary status
Shabazz Napier scored 22 points in UConn's win over Kentucky in the National Championship Game. The Huskies' fourth title is Napier's second. JON KULAKOFSKY/The Daily Campus
ARLINGTON, Texas - With 6:54 to play in Monday's National Championship Game, UConn's chance at a fourth title hung in the balance.
Kentucky was going punch for punch. A team of freshman, the Wildcats were unafraid of the older Huskies.
The only problem was, Shabazz Napier was unafraid right back.
With 79,238 pairs of eyes looking down on him, with the hand of a taller Wildcat in his face, Napier put up a 3-pointer, and Amida Brimah knew it was going in right away.
"You knew it too, didn't you?" Brimah said to me in the locker room, the national championship trophy placed on the ground three feet away. "You're from Connecticut. You knew that, yea."
I am from Connecticut. I grew up on UConn basketball. I go to UConn. I knew that was going in.
That is what we have come to expect of Shabazz Napier; we have come to expect greatness.
After 143 games (most all time), 1,959 points (fourth), 646 assists (third), a spot on the AP All-American First Team and two national championships, Napier has cemented his place among the all-time greatest Huskies.
"It was a wonderful job and he's a wonderful young man and I wish him the best of luck," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said. "He's always going to have a home here. He got two national championships, can't nobody say that in our history. Niels Giffey, Tyler Olander got two national championships. Can't nobody say that in our history."
Without Napier, who knows where UConn is right now. He was the captain of this team through the most trying time in program history, a time that included a postseason ban, conference realignment purgatory and more doubt than there has been about a UConn team in years.
Through all that adversity, UConn survived, and now the program is at a height few imagined 18 months ago. Without shot after ridiculous shot from Napier, without his leadership, his humbleness and his determination to win not just every game, but every possession, the Huskies might very well still be three-time national champions instead of four.
"He's going to go down in history as one of the best players to ever play at UConn," Omar Calhoun said. "Not a lot of people have gone to a national championship and won it, so I feel like he just led the way.
"Shabazz is definitely up there with Kemba (Walker). Kemba did some phenomenal things, but Shabazz is definitely right there. He led us, so he definitely gets a lot of credit for this."
But at UConn, there is no ranking of who is best or which player had the best career. There are only brothers and legends.
Ray Allen is one of the many players considered a UConn legend. The NBA's all-time leader in made 3-pointers, Allen is not even at the top of UConn's all-time list. Napier is second. But Allen made some historic moments of his own - just ask Georgetown.
"One thing I've always said about us guys that come out of Connecticut, we all are a group of brothers, and I don't compare myself to any one of them," Allen said. "What's great about the history, you can take - depending on who you are as a fan or a journalist - you have an opportunity. You've watched everybody, and you can say who you appreciate watching."
There are few, if any, who would say they did not appreciate all Napier did for this program. It could have easily fallen into oblivion - given the events of recent years - but it didn't.
He could have left. But he didn't.
He stayed after the misery of his sophomore year. He stayed through the postseason ban. He stayed after the thought of the NBA popped up last year.
And when he walks across the stage on graduation day, he might be able to look up at his number in the Huskies of Honor and realize that what he did for this program will be remembered and celebrated forever.
Shabazz Napier is a UConn legend.
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