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Napier remains grounded after heroic game-winner

Sports Editor

Published: Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Updated: Tuesday, December 3, 2013 00:12

After the No. 12 UConn men’s basketball team knocked off No. 15 Florida in the most dramatic way possible Monday night, Shabazz Napier did not want to bask in the glory of being the hero.

He does not want people to focus on him being the guy to make the winning shot. He just wants them to remember the win; the 65-64 win that ended with a buzzer-beating shot that came out of his hands from about 12 feet from the hoop.

All Napier wants to do is go back to his room and continue his ongoing series of FIFA games with Amida Brimah.

Napier scored 26 points against the Gators, moving into 22nd on the all-time scoring list at UConn with 1,370, and no shot was bigger than the one that he threw up with 0.9 seconds left on the clock, with Florida leading 64-63.

After an effort from about 16 feet away hit the bottom of the backboard, DeAndre Daniels made what UConn coach Kevin Ollie, Florida coach Billy Donovan and Napier all agree was the biggest play of the game, tipping the ball back to Napier at the top of the key. When the captain put up the second shot from just beyond the foul line he began backpedalling towards the locker room.

When it fell through the hoop and the red light illuminated the glass, he went into an all-out sprint to get off the court. That task proved impossible, however, as Napier was met by a swarm of students, shortly followed by his teammates, who simply wanted to celebrate a win over an elite opponent that puts the Huskies’ record at 8-0.

“I just knew that guys were going to try and trample me, and I’m kind of claustrophobic with that – I don’t like guys on top of me,” Napier said. “I was just trying to run back to the locker room, and on the way there, I met a couple of great students and was just going crazy with them.”

He may not want to be the guy. He may be more concerned with who he is going to use to beat Brimah in FIFA – Real Madrid, Chelsea or Bayern Munich – and about studying for finals, but celebrity has found Napier, whether he likes it or not. Monday cemented that. That is why he could not get back to the locker room. That is why there was a wall of students waiting to meet him.

“One of the big time players to ever put this jersey on and walk on the court at Gampel,” Ollie said.

Napier passed up the chance to hear his name called at the 2013 NBA Draft to return for his senior year. His presence has made a world of difference for UConn, but not a single one of his teammates or coaches will mention his incredible performances without pointing out his most important attribute: being a good teammate and leader.

“He’s just a tremendous player,” junior guard Ryan Boatright said. “He’s a good teammate. He knows the game of basketball. He makes the right plays, and he made a big shot. I was happy to be out there and to be part of a historic game like that.”

Napier’s shot capped what was one of the greatest games ever played at Gampel Pavilion, and the first big non-conference game against a ranked opponent in Storrs since UConn knocked off No. 1 Texas in Jan. 2010.

The 10,167 fans in attendance will remember Napier and his shot. They will continue to compare him to Kemba Walker. But the hero of the night, a player that will be remembered as one of the Huskies’ all-time greatest, a young man that once dreamed of being Superman, does not buy that. This game was won by UConn, he says, not Shabazz Napier, not Superman.

“Superman does it on his own,” Napier said. “I can’t do it without my teammates…We found a way to win when we couldn’t rebound. We usually battle with the big guys, like we did with Indiana and Maryland, but today wasn’t the day. We found another way to win.”

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