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Napier Question Answered; Wolf Question Still Needs To Be

Jeff Jacobs

7:14 PM EDT, April 27, 2013

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A day after the Boston Marathon bombings, Shabazz Napier was looking into a WTNH camera and talking eloquently, soulfully about the pain of his hometown. It was then that Napier paused for a moment and said, "I always tell my close friends that the one thing in life you never do is tell your future."

Napier did plenty of soul-searching and basketball researching in recent weeks, deciding whether his future should be to enter the NBA draft or remain at UConn for a senior season. He talked to his family, particularly his mom, Carmen. He talked to Kevin Ollie and his staff. He said he spent several hours with Jim Calhoun. He leaned on his teammates, notably he singled out Enosch Wolf.

On Friday, Napier announced he was staying at Storrs. In short order, Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels said the same.

Voila!

Just like that, the 2013-2014 UConn men's basketball season turned fascinating. Just like that, huge expectations in Connecticut.

I toured the Internet for some early pre-season rankings. The Sporting News had UConn 14th. USA Today did not have UConn among the Top 25 and neither did CBSSports.com or NBC Sports College Basketball Talk. ESPN had UConn 14th. Sports Illustrated had the Huskies 25th and Fox Sports had them 19th.

Maybe it's because UConn fell off the radar to a degree because of its academic ban from the postseason. Maybe it's because all the dust hadn't settled on who's headed to the NBA. Maybe it's because some observers don't fully grasp what Napier brings and the enormous upside of DeAndre Daniels. Whatever it is, in my mind, all but The Sporting News and ESPN have sorely underrated UConn.

Yes, Kentucky will have more NBA players than the 2011-2012 Charlotte Bobcats. Yes, there are a handful of strong returning teams. Yes, I understand UConn's rebounding problems. I went to the games. And, yes, Napier, who probably would have been a late NBA second-round pick, is right-on when he said the one thing you can't do is tell the future. Still, to me, UConn is definitely a Top 15 team, headed toward the Top 10. With a 22-year-old guard like Napier next winter — college basketball is nothing if not Exhibit A of the vital importance of an experienced point man — sign me up for very high expectations.

Questions of size and speed surely will follow Napier into the pros, but there is no question of his penchant for heroics and his ascension as a leader. Remember two years ago when he shot his mouth off better than he shot his shot. Remember, as Kevin Duffy of Hearst Connecticut pointed out, when Napier said things like, "Some guys get punched and want to throw a pillow at somebody " and "I try my best to be a leader, even though guys don't give me a chance to be that person. It shows in the game." Well, Napier learned to harness some of that passion with ample doses of maturity and grace. He is learning to get his point across publicly without sounding selfish and strident. Plus, he hit every shot in overtime he took last season.

Trust your eyes, UConn fans. Trust your instincts and reasoning.

People just are not watching carefully if they think the Huskies, barring catastrophic injury, won't be among the top 25 teams in the nation next season. If they can get any sort of reliable rebounding they should make a run at the Top 10 and make some serious noise in the NCAA Tournament.

This brings us to the 7-1 Enosch Wolf, who averaged 3.4 rebounds as an improving backup center last season before he was suspended the last eight games, and another sort of high expectation. The expectation we must demand of ourselves as citizens and responsible adults. In Wolf's case, it is a matter that has grown increasingly complicated in the past few days.

Satisfied with the court-appointed counseling Wolf underwent, prosecutors dropped charges Wednesday against him. In the early hours of Feb.11, he was arrested on a domestic violence charge for grabbing the hair, pushing the head and knocking the glasses off a UConn student he had been dating. He also refused to leave the apartment.

Twice recently, Ollie has said he believes Wolf has turned it around, matured and addressed matters that led to his arrest. Beyond the domestic violence diversionary program, Wolf has undergone individual counseling. His attorney, Rob Britt, said Wolf also has addressed alcohol issues.

This is conjecture on my part, but it sounds as if Ollie is open to Wolf returning to the team. There's also a university review process. After that, athletic director Warde Manuel and Ollie — and surely president Susan Herbst would be involved — would decide on lifting Wolf's suspension.

With Tyler Olander and Phillip Nolan back, with a couple of big recruits, Kentan Facey and Amida Brimah coming, there is help. And if they pushed out Wolf, if a scholarship opened, a fifth-year or junior college transfer could replace him. That would avoid public criticism. Yet is that the morally correct move?

Expectations changed this past week when UConn senior Carolyn Luby wrote an open letter to Herbst, published by "The Feminist Wire." In it, Luby made correlations between the new UConn logo and its symbolic meanings. She called for Herbst to change male athletic behavior, instead of "prioritizing the remodeling of the fictional face of the Husky logo." She pointed to the arrests of Wolf, Lyle McCombs and Olander and the academic problems of the basketball program.

She wrote that Geno Auriemma said the logo "is looking right through you and saying, 'Do not mess with me. This is a streamlined, fighting dog, and I cannot wait for it to be on our uniforms and court.'" Luby wrote, "What terrifies me about the admiration of such traits is that I know what it feels like to have a real-life Husky look straight through you and to feel powerless, and to wonder if even the administration cannot 'mess with them.'

"Instead of giving these problematic aspects of male athletic peer culture at UConn a second look or giving the real face of athletics a true makeover, it appears that the focus of your administration is prioritizing the remodeling of the fictional face of the Husky logo. Instead of communicating a zero tolerance atmosphere for this kind of behavior, increasing or vocalizing support to violence against women prevention efforts on campus in the face of such events, or increasing support to student run programs that seek to work with athletes on issues of violence as well as academic issues, it would appear that your administration is more interested in fostering consumerism and corporatization than education and community."

Barstool Sports and The Daily Caller chose to simplify the entire matter and say Luby was claiming that the new logo promoted sexual assault. Rush Limbaugh jumped into the fray and it gained national attention. There were horrible reader posts on Barstool Sports. Luby, who has openly shared her experience as a survivor of rape and sexual assault, told the Daily Campus she had received threats of rape and all sorts of harm.

Luby painted with too broad of a brush in some areas. The APR issue not only has nothing to do with mistreatment of women, it's involves old scores. UConn basketball has been strong academically for 2 1/2 years. Olander's tresspassing arrest on spring break in Florida was boneheaded, but had nothing to do with mistreatment of women. While McCombs was arrested for breach of peace and accused of yelling, spitting and pushing his girlfriend, Sasiamarie Jones was arrested on the same charge.

I don't agree with Luby tying the logo to the issues of sexual assault. I wholeheartedly back her right to make the argument. And while I agree with her premise that big-time sports have gotten out of hand, I believe invoking a mascot or a logo ends up trivializing a grave area of concern in men's treatment of women. Let's be clear: It sickens me to hear of the abuse she is getting, from nameless, faceless morons.

I criticized Paul Pasqualoni's decision to sit McCombs for only one quarter. And on Wolf, I wrote: "I would not play him the final eight games of this season. Yet should it stop there? If the charges are proved true, I also cannot find a more prudent course at this point than to bid Wolf a permanent goodbye." On a permanent dismissal, however, I also pointed it out it was a difficult decision.

And it is. If Wolf had injured the woman, I'd be for immediately deporting him to Germany. He did not. Months later, I am open to an argument for his return and, if he is allowed, I would call on him to speak on campus about his experiences and what he has learned. He could potentially be an asset in the evolution of gender relationships on the UConn campus.

Like Napier, I cannot tell the future. My eyes, my reasoning, tell me that allowing him back on the team might actually be the more difficult yet righteous move. Yet in the middle of controversy that has tied a logo to Wolf's wrongdoing, he might be steamrolled by pressures brought by a larger furor over a logo. And that, in my mind, would meet the lowest expectations of a great university.