"My sophomore season, we had one of the best teams in the country," he said on the eve of the Huskies' Elite Eight game against Michigan State at Madison Square Garden. "I think we were ranked ... we started off No. 4 in the country. And we had great talent, Andre Drummond, Jeremy Lamb, Roscoe Smith, Alex Oriakhi.
"And I didn't know how to be a leader out there at that point. I was doing things that I wasn't definitely happy about. I isolated myself a lot when things were down. I didn't learn how to be a leader, even though I had one of the greatest leaders in front of me my freshman year. I was quite flustered most of the time. I felt like I didn't play to my capabilities that year, and I wanted to show my teammates, show the fans, show the coaches that I'm going to come back strong and I'm going to come back better."
There was friction that season. Some of UConn's players thought Napier did not do a good enough job of getting them the ball. At one point, Napier complained to Jim Calhoun that players were not listening to him the way they listened to Kemba Walker.
"Because you're not Kemba," Calhoun told him.
After one game, Napier questioned his teammates' heart. But the big thing was his habit of going into funks, not communicating.
"He has a wonderful gift, and now he's giving away his gift," coach Kevin Ollie said. "He's not secluded and not trusting anybody. Now he's all right to say, 'I made a mistake, and look at me, I'm going to correct it.' And before he wasn't able to come to that realization that 'I made a mistake' or not give away his gift. He's encouraging guys to be better. He's encouraging himself to be better. The first battle is within. And he's conquered 'within.' Whenever something comes up, he goes to the next play.
"He recovers better now than he did in his sophomore year. I think that's a true testament of a leader to say, 'I'm wrong and now I'm going to prove you guys right. I'm going to prove my coaching staff right and I'm going to go out and be a better person each and every day.' And that's what he's doing. He's an amazing leader. He's an amazing basketball player, but he's an amazing person. He's a coach's dream to have a point guard as smart as he is. Like I said many times, he's my unpaid assistant coach and I love him to death."
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is not a tweep nor a Facebook friend. "The social media, I hate," he said. "If this was HBO, I would get more in depth into how much I despise it, because I still, and I'm going to say this, I think it hurts kids. When you're a media member and you got a newspaper or even if have you a talk radio show, there's somebody that you've got to be accountable to. When you get behind some of those things that you don't have to be accountable, I struggle with that." … Izzo, like many coaches, is also dismayed by the emphasis put on freshmen coming into the college game. "Kentucky has done a good job, but experience is good in coaching and experience is good with players," he said. "And any time you have some experience ... I always tell these guys that you can win a lot of games one way, but to win championships and advance in tournaments, usually you need some key things, and toughness is one. And I think the experience they bring and the hunger to get there, if they haven't been there yet, is one. I think it's a shame that we put so much pressure on these freshmen and sophomores instead of letting them just enjoy their time. Our whole society is trying to speed it up. I like being a snot-nosed kid. That was the most fun I ever had. And we're trying to take it away."
Special Train At 10:40
There will again be a special Metro-North train to New York for the game on Sunday. It leaves New Haven at 10:40 a.m. It will stop at West Haven, Bridgeport and Harlem/125th Street, due to arrive at Grand Central Terminal at 12:23 p.m., about two hours before the game. A special return train will be waiting at Grand Central after the game, its departure time to be determined by the length of the game. … Izzo is 6-1 in regional finals. Denny Crum was 6-1; Mike Krzyzewski is 11-2. Only John Wooden (12-0) was better. … This is UConn's 11th time in an Elite Eight game. The Huskies are 4-6. … UConn has a 55-29 record in the NCAA Tournament, 35-8 since 1999. … Napier has 1,900 points. He needs 22 to catch Ray Allen for fourth place in UConn history. … Senior Tyler Olander started and played 28 minutes, with four points and six rebounds, when the Huskies beat Michigan State on Nov. 9, 2012. He has played in only one of UConn's three NCAA Tournament games, for three minutes. … Since Brandon Dawson returned from an injury to the Michigan State lineup March 6, the Spartans are shooting 50 percent and Dawson is shooting 65.8 percent. "He does a wonderful job of getting second-chance points," Ollie said. "And we can't let him do that."