Lamb and Napier look to celebrate again
Published: Thursday, November 10, 2011
Updated: Friday, November 11, 2011 00:11
When Jeremy Lamb came away with the rebound off a Matt Howard miss with eight seconds left in the 2011 NCAA national championship game, the freshman was about to fulfill a childhood dream.
Yes the UConn men's basketball team was seconds away from beating Butler, 53-41, and claiming the school's third national championship, but the celebration was even sweeter for Lamb because he was the one who had the ball at the end. He was the one who was able to dribble out the clock.
"Yeah it was funny," Lamb said. "I always thought about at the end when you throw the ball up and I always thought, I wonder where the ball lands. I'm going to throw it up and look at it. But I threw it up and Shabazz [Napier] was hugging me and I didn't even see where it went."
Lamb threw the ball towards the Reliant Stadium roof after the buzzer had sounded. But it looked as though Lamb had began celebrating a little too early. As Napier jumped on his back, Lamb started jumping up and down while holding onto the ball with three seconds remaining. It was a clear traveling violation, but the referees let it slide.
"That's another thing," Lamb said. "Me and my brother used to always say, I wonder at the end of the game, if you travel, what would they do? So I traveled and I wanted to see what they'd do and they didn't do anything."
The 2010-11 UConn recruiting class was a bit of a mystery, so it was fitting Lamb and Napier, perhaps the two most underrated recruits in the national class, were the ones celebrating together at the end.
"We could've never expected them to do what they did in many ways, with all those freshmen and no experience, but they did it" said coach Jim Calhoun.
Now it's up to Lamb and Napier to avoid a sophomore slump and put last season behind the team.
"Once we got our championship rings, that was the end of the celebration... Last year is over with," Napier said.
Lamb agreed and said he doesn't expect a letdown this season. He did add that he won't be forgetting the Huskies title run anytime soon.
"I definitely still think about it but I guess we've had to put it behind us," Lamb said. "That's what you have to do to move on and have another good season. I definitely put it behind me but I'll always have those memories."
Calhoun believes that the two sophomores have done a good job building team chemistry with the freshmen.
"I have a great deal of confidence that we're good," Calhoun said. "If every coach had a bottle of chemistry, then everybody would win every championship and nobody does."
Napier thinks that last year did nothing but recharge his coach.
"The championship didn't do anything but make him hungrier," Napier said.
Napier is hungry too. The point guard spent the summer doing workouts at home with his brother. He also attended basketball camps hosted by Lebron James and Deron Williams as well as tried out for Team USA's World University Games team after Alex Oriakhi withdrew. The result is s stronger and more serious Shabazz.
"Luckily I was able to put on some weight," Napier said.
In addition to more muscle, Napier has a more serious demeanor. The first indication was Napier not dancing during player introductions at First Night.
"I didn't really like the music and I just wanted to be professional in a way," Napier said. "Hopefully I could get someone to dance in the circle before our games because I hate dancing in the circle before our games. I'm always doing it so I'm trying to get [Ryan] Boatright, somebody to do it. Right now I have to be stuck with it"
A more subtle change for Napier was his hometown. After being listed and announced as a Randolph native last season, Napier made sure his hometown, Roxbury Mass., was correct for the media and fans this season.
"That's where I'm from," Napier said. "Randolph is where I live. I always told [men's basketball SID Kyle Muncy] can you change that for me because I don't want to be coming out to Randolph and people at home say they keep saying you're from Randolph... God-willing he did it for me."
Napier, Oriakhi, another Mass. native, and Lamb are expected to be the three top dogs this season.
"I'm a leader and so are they," Lamb said. "Alex, he's our inside presence and he's really going to lead the boards. Shabazz is a great floor general, he runs the team well. He really knows how to pass and find us on the court. I'm a leader in the aspect of scoring and encouraging my teammates. You put that all together and we're all pretty good leaders for this team."