They are different sizes and shapes, and they come from rival cities — Boston, New York, Chicago.
But Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright and Omar Calhoun have a common mission: to carry a UConn team that does not have a vintage Husky frontcourt. This year's team is about the guards, and after 11 games they are in sync and carrying the load for one of their own — Kevin Ollie, UConn coach and point guard a generation ago.
"They understand each other's spots," Ollie said. "They understand each other's weakness, understand each other's strengths."
Ollie has said there really isn't a point guard, or a two guard. Any of the three — four, including post-grad R.J. Evans off the bench — can be in any role on a given night. "One, two, three — those are just numbers," Ollie says. "You're a basketball player."
In the Huskies' 88-73 win over Fordham, Boatright (26), Napier (19), Calhoun (17) and Evans (nine) combined for 71 of UConn's 88 points, or better than 80 percent of the offense, which was ignited in large part by their defense. The guards have been consistently been doing between 65 and 70 percent of the Huskies' scoring this season, and UConn is 9-2.
"Game by game, your chemistry gets stronger," said Boatright, the 6-foot sophomore from Chicago. "Your chemistry gets strong if everybody buys into what we're trying to do. The more we play together, the better we're going to play."
Napier averages 16.8 points, Boatright 16.1 — and rising — and Calhoun 10.9.
Early in the season, the Huskies had Boatright playing the point and looked to get Napier off the ball to be a scorer. He did score 25 in the win over Michigan State and, after a slow start, scored 29 in the double-OT win over Quinnipiac in the Virgin Islands.
But the offense began to stagnate a bit, and after the 69-65 loss to N.C. State on Dec. 4, the formula was tweaked.
"Ryan's a different guard than I am," Napier said. "He's shorter, but he's a scorer. That's why I kind of asked to move to the 'one.' … I felt like we were not using Ryan to the best of his abilities. I can get my points, but I feel like Ryan is more of a scorer, coming off picks, if he doesn't have to waste his energy coming up the court."
In that game, Napier, the 6-foot-1 junior from Boston, had nine assists and Boatright had 16 points. "I felt like I'm best suited for that," Napier said, "especially on this team. We have a bunch of scorers and not enough passers. I want to take that position and get guys open shots."
Said Boatright: "We can both handle the ball, both distribute the ball and we can both score. Whoever has the hot hand is going to be in that 'two' spot. You have to be unselfish. Shabazz is a whole [different] player from last year," Boatright said. "He's sharing the ball, he's scoring when we need him to score. He's been a leader. He's playing great. We're just clicking right now."
It has been building since. Napier had eight assists, and Boatright 21 points, and Calhoun 22, against Maryland Eastern-Shore last Monday. All three were passing and scoring against Fordham, as UConn had 16 assists, and only two turnovers in the first half.
"We penetrate and we're getting it off the floor," Ollie said. "It's not just 'pound, pound, pound,' they're moving to slots and focusing on finding the open man. It doesn't matter who it is."
Calhoun, 6-5, the freshman from New York, is more the pure shooter. His game, too, had dropped off, but UConn has been doing better, through its penetration, at finding him open shots, and Calhoun is gradually learning to make his own plays, rather than wait for plays to be run for him. Calhoun had 39 points in two games this week. He has regained his three-point touch, and is now 15 of 44.
"He wants to score," Napier said, "maybe that's because he's from New York. … In high school, you can take any shot you want. But here, I tell him, you have to figure out what you do well and concentrate on that."
The Huskies' backcourt has also excelled defensively, forcing turnovers. With its lack of rebounding, UConn has needed steals to ignite its fast break, and is averaging 8.8 per game, after getting 15 on Friday.
"It starts when Boat is getting a lot of steals at halfcourt," Napier said. "That helps our transition offense. When you see a guy playing defense like he does, guarding the ball, it's inevitable you're going to do the same — you want to, if you don't, there's something wrong. Ryan's that high-energy guy, and you want to help him out as much as he's helping us out.
"We need each other, we understand each other. When you have a hot man, you have to ride him. … And when he cools off, then you get yourself hot."