Learning from Champions: A Comparison of Boatright, Napier and Walker through 5 games

Jessica Hill, AP

Jessica Hill, AP

Shabazz Napier was entrusted with the same responsibility Kemba Walker had before him- lead the UConn Huskies to a National Championship while doing, well, basically everything. By now, we know what it will take emotionally for Ryan Boatright to return us to the promised land, we witnessed it with Walker and Napier. Instead, let’s examine what it takes statistically.

Taking into consideration unpredictable variables such as team chemistry, opponent and injury/suspension, the three situations are eerily similar. Don’t believe me? Below are game logs from Kemba’s 2011, Napier’s 2014 and Boatright’s 2015. Try to guess which season belongs to which player (answer at bottom of page):

MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% TRB AST TOV STL PTS
34 6 17 35% 1 4 25% 5 6 83% 6 3 1 2 18
37 15 24 63% 4 9 44% 8 10 80% 8 3 3 1 42
23 8 16 50% 1 4 25% 14 15 93% 2 2 0 3 31
38 10 19 53% 4 11 36% 6 7 86% 3 4 4 3 30
38 10 17 59% 3 4 75% 6 6 100% 2 6 2 2 29
MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% TRB AST TOV STL PTS
33 5 12 42% 2 3 67% 6 6 100% 7 7 3 2 18
37 5 7 71% 1 1 100% 3 5 60% 11 10 1 1 14
22 3 4 75% 1 1 100% 3 4 75% 8 8 3 1 10
38 3 9 33% 2 2 100% 4 4 100% 12 6 3 2 12
38 6 17 35% 0 3 0% 8 10 80% 4 2 0 1 20
MP FG FGA FG% 3P 3PA 3P% FT FTA FT% TRB AST TOV STL PTS
37 7 15 47% 3 6 50% 7 7 100% 8 5 3 4 24
37 6 14 43% 1 4 25% 6 6 100% 6 5 3 0 19
36 6 12 50% 0 2 0% 8 9 89% 5 4 3 3 20
35 6 14 43% 0 4 0% 5 9 56% 5 4 3 0 17
37 8 21 38% 1 5 20% 7 8 88% 7 2 2 1 24

While all three guards undoubtedly possess their own unique strengths, they are one of the same mold- inspiring defensively, unrelenting offensively with a knack for hitting the big shot. What separated both Napier and Walker was their ability to balance top play-maker with primary scoring option. Boatright will need to strike a similar balance for his name to be hoisted at Gampel following the season. Throughout the year I will compare Boatright’s numbers, to those of Napier and Walker at similar points in their championship winning season, in hopes the statistics give an early indication on what Boatright needs to do in order to bring another National Championship to Storrs, Connecticut. Eventually, once more data is collected, we can learn from the adjustments of past champions to fill the spot next to Napier’s banner.

Averages through 5 games:

Player MP FG% 3P% FT% TRB AST TOV STL PTS WINS
Walker 34 52% 41% 88% 4.2 3.6 2.0 2.2 30.0 5
Boatright 36.4 44% 19% 86% 6.2 4.0 2.8 1.6 20.8 3
Napier 33.6 51% 73% 83% 8.4 6.6 2.0 1.4 14.8 5

Here is how Boatright, Napier and Walker shape up head-to-head-to-head on a number of different statistics:

MP FG% 3P% FTA FT% TRB AST TOV STL PTS
Boatright  36.4 Walker 52% Napier    73% Walker         8.8 Walker  88% Napier       8.4 Napier 6.6 Boatright 2.8 Walker   2.2 Walker     30
Walker      34 Napier   51% Walker    41% Boatright     7.8 Boatright 86% Boatright 6.2 Boatright 4 Napier        2 Boatright-1.6 Boatright 20.8
Napier    33.6 Boatright 44% Boatright 19% Napier          5.8 Napier     83% Walker     4.2 Walker 3.6 Walker        2 Napier    1.4 Napier   14.8

Breakdown of categories led:

  • Boatright: Minutes, Turnovers
  • Napier: 3P%, Rebounds, Assists
  • Walker: FG%, FTA, FT%, Steals, Points

Notes:

  • Kemba’s numbers are more impressive (if possible) when you consider they came against #2 Michigan State (Kalin Lucas/Korie Lucious) and #7 Kentucky (Brandon Knight).
  • To no surprise Shabazz is by far the best three point shooter
  • Though it felt Napier and Walker never rested, Boatright leads in minutes
  • All three are shooting over 80% from the foul line
  • Napier easily led in rebounds and assists

1). Walker

2). Napier

3). Boatright

Deandre Daniels and Ryan Boatright NBA Draft Update

The deadline for NCAA underclassmen to declare for the 2014 NBA Draft is April 27th. For Deandre Daniels and Ryan Boatright, this means a decision will be announced in the next few days. As a Husky fan, I would love to see these two back in blue and white next season but with millions of dollars at stake there are many more contributing factors. Here is how I think it will all play out:

Ryan Boatright

Ryan Boatright would benefit from another year in school. Helter-skelter at times, another year under the tutelage of a former NBA point guard would seem to be the rational decision. However, this was not a rational year. Boat is coming off a courageous NCAA tournament performance that drove his stock to an all-time high. Critics allude to his size and decreased statistical performance as indicators he should return for his senior season. I do not understand the size argument, Boat will be the same height next year if he stays and enters the 2015 draft. He will be as undersized then as he is now. The difference is, now his stock is at its peak (barring a repeat). His size will remain the same but his stock can only drop. To address the statistics argument, Boat averaged 12.1 points/3.5 rebounds/3.4 assists this season down from 15.4 points/4.4 assists a year ago. Ok, yes, that’s a drop off of 3 points and 1 assist, but, if you take a deeper look, you will see he took 2 less shots, grabbed .5 more rebounds and committed 1 less turnover per game. Also, we won the National Championship. Boat’s production didn’t drop off, he found his place in the winning formula. Protecting the ball, crashing the glass and accepting a diminished role offensively was what we needed from Boat and that’s exactly what he gave us. He put the team over individual performance, demonstrating his maturation from freshman year. A non-basketball factor to take into account is the death of Boatright’s cousin, Arin Williams, who was shot to death in January outside Chicago. I am sure the desire to move his family to a safer location will play a role in his decision.

To Stay or Go?

Prediction: Enters NBA Draft, mid to late second round pick

 

 Deandre Daniels

Deandre Daniels is another player who could benefit from one more year under Coach Ollie. Standing at 6’9 195 lbs, another year in the weight room seems appropriate as well. On the other hand, Daniels is coming off a NCAA Tournament that saw him play his best basketball in a UCONN uniform including 27 points/10 rebounds vs Iowa State and a 20/10 game vs Florida. Daniels’ length, athleticism and skill set are all highly coveted by NBA GM’s. Does he stay or does he go? As in the case of Boatright I believe Deandre will cash in on his high stock. The opportunity is too hot to pass up. In a draft loaded with talent at the small forward position- Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Cleanthony Early-  Deandre has something none of them have, a ring, the mark of a winner. Another case to consider is that of former UCONN big man Alex Oriakhi, who played a similar role to Daniels on the 2011 National Championship team. After much deliberation Oriakhi chose to remain in Storrs, a move you cannot blame him for but ultimately led to his demise. Oriakhi picked school over stock and is now fighting his way through the D-League to get back to the promised land. Rest assured his decision will be weighing in the back of Deandre’s mind throughout the process.

To Stay or Go?

Prediction: Enters NBA Draft, late 1st round to early 2nd round pick

The Sixth Man

This is the watch my close friend gave me a week before he found the burden of life too difficult to carry at the age of 23. A fellow lifelong Storrs resident and Husky fan, our best memories come from National Championship runs ’99 to the present. From childhood we have idolized the same jersey with the same friends, only the names on the back have changed.

As graduates, with work schedules creating scattered availability, UCONN games were the one constant. Almost every game that I did not attend in person this season, I watched with Nate. The last time I went to his house we watched UCONN beat Rutgers in late January. The last time I saw Nate we watched Louisville embarrass UCONN in the final regular season game and a month ago last night I received the shocking news during halftime of the Memphis game. My 2014 UCONN experience was intertwined with Nate, and now, the aftermath of his passing was to be intertwined with the remainder of the season.

Picture featured on NBC CT

I hadn’t yet worn the watch when UCONN was announced as the No. 7 seed in the East Region. Overcome with sadness I struggled with the idea of not being able to share this experience with Nate whom I had watched games with all year. Then it occurred to me- he can share this. I decided to travel to every game and bring him with me on my wrist.

There was just one possible combination in the entire tournament field that would draw two sites in driving distance. The probability of that happening was 8%. The first two sites- Buffalo and Manhattan- were both driving distance.

The stars were aligning.

I attended the St Joe’s game with two friends and the sixth man. It worked. We won. The next day we drove 7 hours home to attend his service in Mansfield. That night, gathered with 40 friends -some reunited after as long as 6 years- we watched UCONN beat Villanova on a night dedicated to celebrating Nate’s memory. Needless to say it was a fitting end to a great night.

UCONN – St. Joe’s

UCONN – Villanova

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On to Madison Square Garden, a building that hadn’t hosted a NCAA Tournament game in 53 years. And this happens to be the year. And the No. 7 seed, UCONN, has advanced.

Stars continue to align.

Tickets to the East Regional soared to unprecedented highs and out of my price range, but I was able to get Tyler Olander’s last two tickets.

Stars aligning.

Everything that needed to go right was going right. Big 12 Champion? We won. Big 10 Champion? We won. Many say the crowd was the sixth man that weekend at the Garden. In my opinion, the real sixth man wasn’t even in the building.

UCONN – Iowa State

UCONN – Michigan State

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riding this wave of faith I bought a round trip ticket to Dallas with no game tickets. I couldn’t rationally justify my decision, I just knew it was the right one. Faith. I knew I had help from above. I knew I had the sixth man on my side. On Saturday night I was in AT&T Stadium, the largest single-day crowd  in college basketball history filing in from the bottom up. There was no way I could finagle myself into better seats, right? While sitting in section 400, I noticed an opening three rows behind the UCONN bench next to family friends. I began my descent. 10 minutes later I had infiltrated three levels of Final Four security into a seat that got me on the front page of the Dallas Morning News- without so much as a single question. It was as if someone had turned their heads as I approached each level. We won.

Stars aligning.

On Sunday, a good friend who flew in for the championship game happened to have an extra ticket. It was not discussed, it was not planned, it just happened. Hours later I found myself back at AT&T Stadium sitting behind NBA star Andre Drummond in a row that included former Husky greats Charlie Villanueva and Jerome Dyson. As Kentucky surged I took peace in knowing we had the sixth man on our side. I knew we would win. And we did. National Champions.

On the floor after the game I was adopted by Coach Ollie’s family and ushered into the locker room where I was able to congratulate KO in a room with Ray Allen and Rip Hamilton. Security, reluctant to let me pass noting the obvious difference in skin tone between Coach Ollie’s family and myself, finally let me through as if they were instructed to from above.

Stars aligning.

After a month of searching for answers, UCONN was the only definitive answer I had.

Front Page in Dallas

Kevin Ollie Post-Championship

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As I mentioned earlier the last time I saw Nate we watched UCONN’s blowout loss to Louisville. Following the loss, Coach Ollie was asked why his team was not playing together this late in the season:

“We’ve been playing good basketball so we have faith in ourselves,” Ollie said to reporters. “We’re at the bottom right now. This is the worst we could ever play. But guess what? As bad as we played, we can turn it around. So I’m not giving up on the season. I’m just talking about right at this moment, we didn’t play together. This season is not over yet, but I told them if we play like this we have two games and then they can go to spring break.”

UCONN was at the bottom. In a final tune up before postseason play we were held to our lowest scoring output of the season. What’s worse? No one was passing. No one played together. There was no camaraderie. Individual agendas over the good of the team. Coach Ollie insisted that he wasn’t done with the season. They didn’t play together that one game but they still had time. Or, they could fall apart. Give up and go home. Two choices, one much easier than the other. They had the faith, they just needed to play together.

Recently I revisited the quote in a search for significance of our last encounter. Reading through the lines from a basketball perspective, it made sense- but from a life perspective- it gave me chills. My friends and I were at rock bottom. Shock barely numbed the sadness of failing one of your closest friends when they needed you most. Distractions lasted momentarily as the mind fixated on what you could have done differently, things you could have said or ways you could have shown you were there. The longest periods of relief came from reminiscing with close friends and sharing common experiences, such as this championship run. Put simply, being together with those who mattered most. It is through these experiences you start to realize that you have not failed. It hurts every night to have missed this chance but there will be many more chances I will not miss. Failure is a refusal to learn from this tragedy and miss an opportunity to make a difference in the future. Failure is becoming so engrossed in mourning that you forget to carry on the legacy of a great young man. Failure is neglecting to spend as much time as possible with those who matter most. Failure is not paying it forward.

The aftermath of Nate’s passing only heightened the sense of camaraderie within the Storrs community. When you see how quickly a life can be lost it gives you a greater appreciation for not only what you have, but what you had. Through this experience I have been able to reconnect with friends I  had lost touch with for years. We toasted to Nate with a former high school classmate in Buffalo. We did the same before the Villanova game with a collection of old high school friends so odd I couldn’t have put it together better myself. A former classmate in Dallas graciously opened up his apartment to anyone making the trip. Tyler gave his last ticket to our friend in Austin, allowing him to partake in the experience. Middle school friends from Florida flew in. Others journeyed from Boston, Houston and Minneapolis. It’s awful it takes tragedies such as these to bring to light what is most important in life but the real tragedy is not taking advantage of the sacrifice made. At least you know we made it count and will continue to do so. 2014 has been a dream season defined by faith and togetherness. I had the faith, we just needed to do it together. Well Nate, we won the National Championship and we won it together.

UCONN – Kentucky

UCONN – Florida

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As a tribute to Nate and his love for animals, I have decided to donate the proceeds of my faith -aka March Madness winnings- to the Mansfield Animal Shelter. Together, with another friend who  reaped the benefits of faith, we have a combined $240 in winnings.

To anyone else who won money on faith, loyalty or just appreciate the cause, donations can be made to: Mansfield Animal Shelter, c/o 4 South Eagleville Rd. Storrs, CT 06268. Thank you in advance.

I have just finished writing this in the midst of a lunar eclipse.

The stars have officially aligned.