STORRS -- The offseason may have gone quickly for some, but not for Shabazz Napier.
"I've been waiting so long," Napier said before an exhibition game. "We are ready to get this thing started."
Though Jeremy Lamb is a preseason All-America pick and Andre Drummond is the high-profile newcomer, Napier might have the most eyes on him. He will be UConn's starting point guard, taking over one of Kemba Walker's chores, and he can't wait to get behind the wheel.
"Shabazz has me on speed-dial," Walker said. "He can call me whenever he wants, if he has any questions. Shabazz is one of those guys last year who spoke a lot, even when he wasn't supposed to be speaking. Those guys look up to him, believe it or not. He's doing a great job leading them."
Coach Jim Calhoun jokes on the speaking circuit that when he walks by Napier, he puts a finger to his lips. "Shhhhhhh," Calhoun said. "It keeps you from saying something stupid."
But that's part of the fun. Calhoun likes his point guards tough and talkative, and when he describes a fellow Bostonian as "a tough, tough kid," as he does Napier, it's a high compliment. Napier and Alex Oriakhi were named co-captains shortly after the end of last season.
"We need an igniter," Calhoun said. "And Shabazz has the best chance to do that for us. We need him to lead."
When Napier noticed, for instance, that Division II Seattle Pacific had beaten Arizona in an exhibition game, he exhorted his teammates not to let the same thing happen to them. He set a goal, in fact, to hold American International to 35 points.
When the Yellow Jackets hit 35, he called his team together on the floor. "We need a stop here," Napier told them. "You're making me look stupid."
AIC didn't score again.
"My whole goal for this team is to get this team to play better defensively and offensively," Napier said.
He describes himself as a "pass-first" point guard, which he showed when he had 15 assists in the AIC game. Napier struggled shooting.
"He's the best point guard I've ever played with," Drummond said.
"We always know he can pass the ball," Oriakhi said, "so guys always have their hands ready and stay alert. Once he is able to score and distribute the ball like that, he is only going to get better with time."
Last season, Napier came in for spurts to relieve Walker of ball-handling chores and free him up for scoring. Napier was effective, averaging 23 minutes, 7.8 points, three assists and 1.6 steals. But coming off the bench was new for him, and learning to be patient was the key. For UConn to fulfill its potential, the Huskies need Napier to grow into a mature, disciplined player.
"My role is totally different than last year," Napier said. "Coming off the bench was weird. I'd never done that before. My role was to come in and be a spark. You want to do something right away, get the crowd involved. Now, I have to be patient, look for my teammates. I have to realize that the ball is precious, any little turnover I make can cost us."
With the Huskies thin at the point, especially if freshman Ryan Boatright misses games when the UConn-NCAA review of his eligibility is complete, Napier also will have to stay out of foul trouble.
"I can't get the cheap ones," Napier said, "I've got to stay in there the right way."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun