Leaving College A Champion, Napier Ready To Start Next Phase Of Career

by Mark Remme
Web Editor

My initial impression of UConn point guard Shabazz Napier while listening to him answer questions at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last month was that he’s brimming with confidence. Fresh off a national championship with the Huskies—his second of his collegiate career—he said winning is an incredibly big piece of an athlete’s resume because it shows the level of commitment to success you’ve dedicated toward your team.

That said, when he’s working out for NBA teams throughout June, it’s all about showcasing what you can do on the court. Intangibles are important, but Napier knows he also needs to perform well in these workouts in order to impress a team enough to draft him. He was in the Twin Cities on Friday and tried to do just that for the Timberwolves—his fifth Draft workout.

The Wolves' Draft workout coverage is sponsored by Coors Light.

Napier’s been through ups and downs at UConn—two national titles, one opening-round loss and missing the NCAA tournament in 2012-13—and that seems to factor into his motivation.

“I always want to focus on everything—the good things, things I do well and things I don’t do well,” Napier said. “I’m never satisfied with what I have. I want to continue to grow, and that’s just how, you know, I was brought up to be. I think your maturation of the game is helping you stand amongst a lot of folks, so I want to hopefully get better overall and just adapt to the game quickly because at the end of the day, this is the NBA. Elite players play here, and hopefully one day I can call myself elite. But I’ve got to work hard to do that.”

Napier worked out with Flip Saunders, and he said the new Wolves coach told him to continue working hard—take every opportunity possible to improve. Napier said Saunders is a good coach who understands the game of basketball, and around someone like him he wants to be a sponge and absorb as much information as possible.

As for possibly joining the Wolves, Napier said he’s watched Ricky Rubio and said the third-year point guard from Spain is “super talented.” He doesn’t watch a lot of NBA, he said, but he can tell Rubio is someone who can impact the game.

“He does what he has to do, coming in day-in and night-out and working his tail off for the Timberwolves,” Napier said. “And, you know, great offense, getting his little plays out, too. He’s a talented guard.”

While having a winning pedigree as a player is important, Napier said he understands he needs to earn his place on an NBA court. It starts now, but it will continue to be that way throughout his career.

He’s not taking anything for granted, and he knows his team and personal accolades at UConn are important but behind him now.

“It’s just a national championship,’ Napier said. “At the end of the day, you know, the guys in the league don’t really care too much about it. It’s not going to get me extra points or get my team extra points, so at the end of the day, college level is over with and it’s getting ready for the next step.”

Quick Hits

  • Napier was asked if the NBA is ready for two players named Shabazz on one team, meaning if he was drafted by the Wolves they would have Napier and Shabazz Muhammad on the same roster: “Well, his name is Shabazz (pronounced Shah-bahz) and mine’s Shabazz (pronounced Shah-baaz), so that’s totally different. But I mean you never know. You never know.”
  • Ohio State small forward LaQuinton Ross, who is projected to be a second-round pick, was also part of Friday’s group. He said he’s worked out for nine or 10 teams so far, and his goal is to show teams that he’s mobile. He said teams have told him that he’s way more athletic than they thought he was. “Definitely just showing I can play the 3,” Ross said. “I’ve been playing the 3 my whole life except at Ohio State. At Ohio State, I had to play the 4. It was for the better of the team that I played the 4, so I’m used to playing that 3.”
  • While at Ohio State, Ross matched up against Michigan State’s Adreian Payne. Payne was brought in on Saturday to work out for the Timberwolves. He’s projected to be a possible selection for the Wolves at 13. “Adreian Payne’s a good player, man,” Ross said. “It’s crazy watching him over those years at Michigan State. He went from a real raw kid coming in who is real athletic to one of the best guys in the country last year. It was always great playing against him, especially from that Columbus area playing on that All-Ohio red team. He always played one of his best games against Ohio State.”