UCONN- Florida 12.2.2013

You knew Shabazz Napier wouldn’t lose. Standing in Section 218, I had a clear view of his ear to ear smile after knocking down yet another big three. A smile as assertive as it was provoking; he was daring Florida to stop him. And they couldn’t. Drawing 6’8 Will Yeguete on a switch with 10:08 remaining in the second half, Shabazz went to work. Yeguete bit on the initial up-fake, but, in a move straight out of the book of Shabazz, he waited for the bigger defender to reset before pulling up to bury the trey. Shabazz Napier has grown from freshman to captain, point guard to leader. Afforded the fortune of working closely with the team during the 2011 National Championship run, I can’t help but draw comparisons between the two floor generals.
Kemba Walker entered the 2011 season with a clear understanding of his role in the winning formula. Armed with confidence built from hours of offseason sweat, he approached practice with an attitude that he could not be stopped. The work he put in translated through his performance and won him the respect of the team far before his Maui heroics. 2011 started as Kemba’s team from Day One. You couldn’t stop him. He was a man among boys, flying to the rim at will. His fearlessness resonated deeply with his understudy.
Shabazz Napier entered the 2013 season with a Kemba-esque attitude. His summer fling with the NBA only increased his focus on developing the skills necessary for success at the next level. This understanding, matched with unparalleled confidence has proven lethal to opponents thus far. Although I am not nearly as involved this year, there is no doubt this is Shabazz’ team. Games will be won and lost in his hands. There will be ups and downs as there is during any learning curve however make no mistake, this team has what it takes to reach another Final Four. The chemistry is there. The faith in leadership is there. The ability to win close games is there.  The will to battle for every rebound fighting bigger/more athletic opponents is there. I don’t care that we lost the rebounding battle- Florida is as long as they are big- we fought to secure defensive rebounds in crunch time and tipped as many offensive boards as possible to keep the possession alive. These are elements of the winning formula no statistics or rankings can accurately measure.
As Shabazz backpedaled down the court smiling in the face of Wilbekin, I felt an overwhelming sense of reassurance. I had seen that face before too many times. Kemba Walker had the same type of look. The I-know-you-can’t-get-past-me-but-I-can-get-past-you type of look few players can relate to. Shabazz took the Florida game over as he watched his counterpart do time and time again two years ago. Now it’s his turn. And he did not disappoint.

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