Last Wednesday, Shabazz Napier and the rest of the senior class took the court at Gampel Pavilion for the last time, and on Saturday they played their final regular season game as UConn Huskies. While we still have the postseason to watch and appreciate him, now seems like an appropriate time to reflect on what Napier has meant to this program.
Shabazz may not be the greatest player in UConn history, but he's probably one of the most interesting, and he's definitely one of the most important. Without Shabazz, the 2011 team may not have won the National Championship, last year's team may have crashed and burned, and given all the turmoil the school has experienced between the retirement of Jim Calhoun, the NCAA sanctions and the breakup of the Big East, the program itself could have sunk had he not been there to keep it afloat.
Few players have ever meant more to their team than Shabazz has for UConn these past two seasons. He leads the team in just about every major statistical category, including points (18.1), rebounds (5.9), assists (5.3), steals (57), free throw percentage (.884) and minutes per game (34.8). He was similarly dominant last year too, only nobody noticed because the team was banned from the postseason. Now? He's looking at a whole chest full of awards when the season is over, and if not for Creighton's Doug McDermott he'd likely be a contender for the Wooden Player of the Year award too.
But his greatest legacy? Never has anyone mastered the "No! No! No! YES!" moment quite like Shabazz. That game-winning shot he hit against Villanova two years ago? He took that from so far out that I literally had enough time to mutter "God dammit Shabazz!" under my breath before the ball went in and everybody watching with me at The Daily Campus lost their minds.
And then of course there were the two free throws he made against Kentucky to send UConn to the 2011 National Championship game, and his two triple doubles, and of course, this.
Over the past four years, watching Shabazz play basketball has been like riding the world's most fun roller coaster. Sometimes the big drops make your stomach churn, and sometimes the twists and turns make your head spin, but when the ride is over, you always hop right back on for more.
After enough times you even start to get used to it. Shabazz has now improved his game and his shot selection to the point where he could pull up from anywhere on the floor and most fans wouldn't be phased at all. It's just Shabazz doing his thing, and if anybody is going to go taking shots like that, it may as well be the guy with ice in his veins and the biggest balls in the building.
I'm going to miss watching Shabazz, he was truly a diamond in the rough and accomplished more than anybody could have imagined when he first signed his letter of intent four years ago. Having already won a championship and effectively saving the program, Shabazz has nothing left to prove, but after all the hell this team has been through since cutting down the nets in Houston, I couldn't think of a better way for this senior class to go out than by cutting them down again this April.
In the meantime, savor every crazy three-pointer, every steal, every drive to the basket and every other thing Shabazz does that makes you smile and shake your head.