NEW YORK – The talking is done, the workouts — 10 of them — are behind him. Now, Shabazz Napier will sit and wait for his name to be called.
"My body of work has proven a lot," Napier said Wednesday at a press conference in Times Square a day before the NBA Draft. "Wherever I go, I go. All I can do is work out and play as hard I did. And now it's up in the air."
Napier, who led UConn to the national championship April 7, has been criss-crossing the country working out for various NBA teams, many of whom had come to look at him in a new light following his performance in the NCAA Tournament. His decision to stay and play his fourth year at UConn has paid off in many ways.
"I'm going to tell you something that may sound kind of funny," he said, "some people may think it's weird, but it's pretty amazing. For me, walking across the stage for my graduation is more important that winning a national championship. That put the icing on the cake for me. To have my degree [in sociology] … it's definitely cool to be here, but I stayed four years so I could get my degree and I worked for that."
Napier, 6-foot-1, said if he didn't have this opportunity, he would go right into teaching and coaching. But that can wait. Among the exciting possibilities mentioned in recent days for Napier when the draft begins, Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the Barclays Center, is that the Miami Heat will try to trade up from their No. 26 position to get him. Or that the Magic (picking No. 12), Timberwolves (No. 13), Hawks (No. 15), Bulls (No. 16 and 19), Celtics (No. 17) or Raptors (No. 20) could take him.
"I don't get into all that," he said. "To be mentioned for things like that, where I'm going to get drafted, is a blessing. It's definitely cool to be in the talk. … Basketball can bring you many places, but you're only going to play competitive basketball until you're 40 or so. Your education stays with you your entire life."
DeAndre Daniels, who left UConn following his junior season, figures to be taken somewhere in the second round of this draft. Another graduated Husky, Niels Giffey, has also been working out for teams and could be signed as a free agent, earning a training camp tryout.
Napier was one of 21 players invited to attend the draft. Napier and his family will be in the "Green Room" in Brooklyn awaiting the call. He was among 20 to attend the press conference for potential draft picks on Wednesday.
"Basketball is the easiest thing for me right now," he said. "I've been doing that since I was 5 ½ years old. … I've worked my tail off since my freshman year, and always believed in myself, that I could be in this position. … I definitely feel like I was the best guard in all my workouts."
And though he is not considered a "lottery pick," he was treated like one, with reporters from New York, Boston, his hometown; and across the country surrounding his table for the entire 30 minutes.
"I'm a passionate guy, I care for people that care for me," Napier said. "I'm going to give [a team] everything I've got, on and off the court. They're going to get somebody that's respectable, representable for their organization."
Napier came to UConn from the Roxbury section of Boston, and played a secondary role as a freshman as Kemba Walker led the Huskies to the championship in 2011. Walker, too, was considered undersized for the NBA, but his stock rose and Charlotte chose him with the No. 9 pick. He has become a starter and leader of their franchise. Walker and Napier have been speaking in recent days about what Napier can expect.
And when Napier's name is called out by commissioner Adam Silver Thursday night, his life will change. Napier, who has resisted the urge to sign up for Twitter throughout his college years, said he finally did so on Wednesday morning. If he goes to a major market, such as Boston, Chicago or Miami, the media scrutiny will be greater, as will Napier's profile. For instance, if he plays an NBA video game, he could even see himself on the screen.
"That's going to be crazy," he said. "I may just have to play myself throughout the entire season."Copyright © 2015, CT Now