Handle With Care: Shabazz Among UConn's Greatest Guards

Shabazz Napier, center, is the latest in a line of top UConn point guards. He trails only Taliek Brown, left, and Tate George on the school's all-time assist list.

So there you have it. Price, the point guard from 2007 through 2009, taught the move to Walker and Kemba passed it on to Napier. This season, Napier is mentoring freshman Terrence Samuel.

"Sophomore year, [Napier] couldn't understand why everybody didn't listen to him like they listened to Kemba," Calhoun said. "Because you aren't Kemba, I kept telling him that. 'You might be someday.' He's getting awfully close to that someday. … He may be the most valuable player there is in the country. As a leader, giving of himself, he stands close to Kemba. Now he's going to take a couple of more steps"

Calhoun often had backcourts with two hybrid guards, much like Ollie is deploying with Napier and Ryan Boatright this season. That's what makes straight comparisons difficult — Napier is the team's distributor, yet he carries the scoring load. He's not the pure point guard like, say, Brown. He's not the pure scorer like Allen or Gordon.

"He's a guy who not only can score, but he can also score when the game is on the line," longtime UConn radio analyst Wayne Norman said. "I think Khalid El-Amin was one of those guys, a guy who led the team in assists, but when you needed him to make a big basket, he could make a big basket.

"Some of the UConn guards over the years, like a Kevin Ollie, were more facilitators. [Ollie's] job was to get the ball to Ray Allen. Other guys, like Shabazz and Kemba, their job is both to set their teammates up, but you look at them to score. Both with penetration and from the perimeter, and Shabazz does it as well as anybody."

Norman, who has been watching UConn hoops for more than 40 years, said Walker set himself apart in 2011.

"I've never seen a UConn player put a team on his back the way he did," Norman said.

But Napier's story is not over. If the Huskies win the next few games and Napier does something special, he might climb to Walker's level.

For his part, Calhoun emphasizes wins when evaluating players. He calls Napier's win total "mind-boggling" and calls him one of the most important leaders in program history.

"He's going to have to go on that list," Calhoun said. "If it weren't for last year, he would have made four NCAA Tournaments. He's got a championship ring in his pocket, a Big East championship in his pocket, he's player of the year in the American Conference. He's going to be one of the great players we've ever had."

Another factor when judging Napier? He could have left when Calhoun retired and the program was facing a postseason ban, but he stuck around and embraced a leadership role under Ollie.

"I grew up with a loyal family and I continue to still have that loyal family with the University of Connecticut," said Napier, a native of Roxbury, Mass.

Ollie said Napier was his "No. 1 recruit" after he took over as coach. He worked hard to convince the guard that staying was worthwhile, that playing under a former point guard could be beneficial. And besides Ollie, the Huskies coaching staff has two other former UConn point guards — Ricky Moore and Karl Hobbs.

"He's just a great player," Ollie said. "When I have the ball in his hands at the end of the game or at a crucial time, I couldn't think of a better guard to do it, because he's not scared of the moment and he's not scared to fail, because failure leads to success. And he's done a great job for us."