BOSTON (CBS) — It has been one busy summer for Shabazz Napier.
The Roxbury native has been traveling around the country, from Phoenix to Orlando to Minnesota and Chicago, showcasing his game to NBA teams he hopes will become his employer come June 26. That’s not to say the whole nation didn’t catch a glimpse of what Napier brings to the floor just a few months ago, as he led the UConn Huskies to the 2013 NCAA title, showcasing a Kemba Walker-like cool en route to his second national title in his four-year collegiate career.
But on Monday, Napier returned to his own backyard, participating in a pre-draft workout for the Boston Celtics. The 2014 Final Four Most Outstanding Player actually put up some shots at the practice facilities Sunday night, soaking up some of the Celtics history in the process.
“I came in last night to shoot a little bit, and for about a good 5-10 minutes, I looked around at the banners,” said Napier, dressed in a green checkered shirt — which he insists was the only clean shirt in his suitcase after all this summer’s travel. “It’s just a warm feeling. It’s the Celtics. Growing up, when you’re a Boston fan, you get those chills every time you watch the game. It took me about 5-10 minutes to realize that I was here.”
Napier is very familiar with the Boston basketball scene. He says he attended Antoine Walker’s basketball camp when he was about 10 years old. Then he become a high school star, first with two years at Charlestown High before transferring to the Lawrence Academy in Groton. He led Lawrence Academy to an undefeated 29-0 season as a junior in 2010, winning tournament MVP honors as they won the New England Prep Class C title. He followed that up with four stellar years at UConn, bookending his Huskies career with a pair of NCAA titles.
Along the way he made big shot after big shot for UConn. That was not lost in his workout with the Celtics on Monday.
“Shabazz Napier makes big shots when it matters. That’s something that doesn’t come across in wing-span measure,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens following the workout. “I’m not as high on measurables as most people. I like to see the ball go in the basket and guys who are competitive.”
It’s expected that the 6-1 guard will be drafted sometime in the middle to late first round, and he’ll likely be on the board when the Celtics make their second scheduled select at 17th overall. He’s worked out for six teams, that he can remember, and believes he has two more workouts before the June 26 draft. Mixed in to his busy summer of auditions was a trip to the White House to honor the NCAA champs.
Napier isn’t the biggest guard in the draft and though the numbers are there (he averaged 18 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 4.9 assists last season as a senior) he is not the most gifted when it comes to scoring. But he has an all-around game that not many possess, and it’s his knack for winning that separates him from the rest of the pack.
“At the end of the day, you want to win. That’s just how it goes. It doesn’t matter if someone is 7 feet or 5 feet. If he knows how to win, he knows how to win. That’s kind of what I can bring,” he said confidently. “I’ve been through a lot. I didn’t win a lot, but I won enough. I’ve lost a lot in my life, and that helped me understand how to win games. At the end of the day, you want to be the last team standing, and to do that, you’ve got to win. That’s what I’m trying to convey.”
Stevens had a front row seat to see Napier win his first NCAA title his freshman year at UConn, as the Huskies beat Stevens’ cinderella Butler Bulldogs. Stevens was with Napier for a little over a week that summer with the USA basketball team, and has watched his career blossom in the college ranks. He wouldn’t mind getting the chance to watch Napier bring his talent to the next level.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with him and watching him grow up. Obviously, a big-time player who, no matter what, when the lights are the brightest, he’s at his best,” said Stevens. “Kudos to him for the career that he’s had and it’s pretty incredible when you think about a guy winning two national titles in his four years in college. Big fan of his.
“I think guys that win find ways to win,” added Stevens. “They find a way to have an impact on their opponent. That’s a big deal and that’s something we all share here.”
Growing up a Boston sports fan, Napier knows what kind of expectations would follow if he is drafted by the Celtics. But that wouldn’t be a problem for someone who has proven he can rise to the highest level when the spotlight is shining on him.
“I grew up in Boston, so that’s all we know,” Napier said of the wild Boston fans. “We were watching one of the films in there that they put up and one of the guys was like, ‘Why were folks crying when Paul Pierce injured himself in the playoffs and they picked him up off the court?’ I said, ‘That’s Boston. You won’t ever understand it unless you play for Boston or you’ve lived in Boston. That’s just how we are. We love our teams. There’s no bandwagon fans in Boston. Whether we have a great year or not, we all support like it’s the best team we got.’ He was like, ‘Man, Boston is crazy.’ I said, ‘That’s what we are. Some crazy fans that want nothing but the best for our teams.’
“It’s just crazy to even be here,” Napier repeated. “I think it’s kind of insane. It’s a blessing.”
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