STORRS — Three years ago, after an unlikely run to the national title, UConn inducted Kemba Walker into the Huskies of Honor. Normally, UConn waits four years after a player's college career to bestow that honor. On Tuesday, after another improbable championship run, the school again went against the model.
Senior guard Shabazz Napier was inducted at a rally for the national champion Huskies at Gampel Pavilion. UConn, a No. 7 seed, beat No. 8 seed Kentucky 60-54 Monday in Arlington, Texas for the program's fourth national title.
"I never thought I'd be a Husky of Honor," Napier said. "I never thought my jersey would be retired in college. I want to thank you fans. I definitely want to thank my teammates."
Play-by-play announcer Joe D'Ambrosio introduced Napier's mother, Carmen Velasquez, who pulled off a cloth to unveil Napier's No. 13 placard hanging among the UConn greats. Although Napier, the Final Four's most outstanding player, said he never thought he'd see the day where his number was retired, he did envision the day three years ago.
"Kemba Walker was talking and I was in awe," Napier said. "I told myself, I wanted to do this. I wanted to be where he's at. I wanted to follow those footsteps. But no one believed in us, you guys always did. It's such a bittersweet moment. Four years went by so fast and to end it on a national championship, bringing it back, it means so much to me. Like I said, this team, we're not capable of doing anything if it wasn't for you lovely fans."
Napier and coach Kevin Ollie repeatedly thank the fans who filled Gampel to about 75 percent capacity.
"We heard you guys made a tremendous mess at the U," Napier said of the students' celebration outside the student union Monday. "We love your support and I appreciate everything for these four years and you made this ride a complete ride for me and I love you guys to death."
Napier, along with seniors Tyler Olander and Niels Giffey, became the only UConn players to win two titles.
"Winning the national championship the second time, it's no less special, if anything it's more special," Olander said. "To come back to these fans is just the greatest thing in the world."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun