Junior co-captain Alex Oriakhi may be Connecticut’s elder statesman, sophomore Jeremy Lamb may be the team’s best player, and freshman center Andre Drummond may be the team’s best NBA prospect, but even coach Jim Calhoun knows that sophomore point guard Shabazz Napier will be the key to the Huskies’ success this season. Calhoun admitted as much to CBS Sports’ Jeff Goodman more than a week ago, but most Huskies’ fans didn’t even need Calhoun’s affirmation to understand just how vital Napier will be to the team’s chances at repeating.
A Massachusetts native, Napier was rated the No. 25 point guard in the class of 2010 and became an instant contributor for Jim Calhoun’s squad. Of course, despite playing 23 minutes and averaging nearly eight points per game, those contributions were merely an afterthought thanks to the performance of star guard Kemba Walker. Napier spent most of the regular season playing in Walker’s rather large shadow, spelling him when he was tired and playing lockdown perimeter defense on opponents. But as the season progressed, Calhoun needed Napier’s steady hand and perimeter defense on the floor in crunch time, and his season peaked in the Final Four when he hit a pair of game-clinching free throws in the team’s 56-55 victory against Kentucky.