TAMPA, Fla. – There is no extending a college career. The eligibility runs out or the NBA beckons and it's time to move on.
What can be extended is influence. Though Kemba Walker is long gone, his influence on a freshman point guard lives on at UConn. And now that Shabazz Napier, that freshman in 2011, is a senior, it's time for him to extend his influence for future UConn teams.
He works on it nearly every day, coaching, big-brothering freshman Terrence Samuel.
"Me and 'Bazz, we spend a lot of time together," Samuel said. "We come to the gym a lot at night. We go out and eat together, we do everything together. He's kind of my mentor, you could say that."
The mentoring ranges from work and study habits, moves on the court, tough love, motivation and positive re-enforcement.
"He says 'you're a great player, you don't think I notice it yet,'" Samuel said. "'But you're going to be one of the best point guards to come out of here.' So I'm just trying to work hard."
"Terrence is quite like me," Napier said. "He's quite funny. He doesn't take things too seriously, and I was like that as a freshman. I just wanted to take it all in and enjoy the moment."
Napier did not start as a freshman but did play a fairly significant role, appearing in every game, averaging 23.8 minutes and 7.8 points as the Kemba-led Huskies won the championship. Napier watched Walker, learned all he could and stayed in touch after succeeding him as the starting point guard in 2011-12.
With former point guard Kevin Ollie now coaching the Huskies, the emphasis on solid guard play is not going away. UConn has experienced point guards in Napier and Ryan Boatright, so playing time for Samuel, the freshman from South Shore High in Brooklyn, has been scarce. He has appeared in only 18 of 28 games, averaging 7.6 minutes and 2.0 points. Most of that time has come in blowouts.
"I see what 'Bazz and Boat are doing out there in certain situations," Samuel said. "I'm just learning so when it's my time, I know what to do. I've learned a lot, especially about defense in the college game. 'Bazz and me, we work a lot on my shot, on in-game moves, one-on-one situations."
Samuel's chance came at South Florida on Wednesday. Sent in early in the second half, Ollie told him to "wreak some havoc" as he had in practice. Samuel got a steal immediately, then another and what might have been only a two-minute cameo to give Boatright a breather turned into eight minutes that turned around the game. Samuel, playing with Napier and Boatright, helped fuel an 18-0 run that was decisive in UConn's 61-56 victory.
"I see that from Terrence all the time," Napier said. "I tell him all the time how good he is, that if he continues to get better he's going to be one of the great point guards in UConn history. We needed a guy that's going to come in and play defense and get some steals. That's what he does, he creates a lot of havoc. … He came in, got a couple of steals and Coach believed in him, kept him in there."
Perhaps Samuel, 6 feet 4 and 190 pounds, can be a wrinkle that makes a difference when the /unranked Huskies (22-6, 10-5 in the American Athletic Conference) get another chance against first-place Cincinnati at the XL Center on Saturday. He played three minutes with two points and a turnover, in the loss at Cincinnati on Feb. 6.
Even as Napier departs the scene, the competition for playing time at guard will be fierce. Boatright, a junior, has the option of returning next year. Rodney Purvis, an elite recruit who transferred from N.C. State, will be eligible. Sam Cassell Jr., an experienced junior college player and son of an NBA point guard, will be coming in.
Napier is working to harden Samuel, admonishing him, for instance, not to go home this summer, but to stay at Storrs and work on his game. And Napier, too, is gaining from the relationship, discovering his voice and gaining experience in being a mentor to a young player, a trait that could one day extend an NBA career.
"Terrence doesn't take it with a lot of heat," Napier said. "That's the way I show my love, it's kind of tough love. Growing up I had a lot of tough love in my life. Terrence has given me the opportunity to mentor him and he's helped me out a lot, because I'm no perfect guy when it comes to that. I need to work on that as well. I mess up, but he understands that, he understands that I have a lot of passion. I'm not trying to get him in the wrong situation, I'm trying to help him and he's allowing me to do so and I appreciate it."Copyright © 2015, CT Now