Who Is More Vital to UConn's Success: Shabazz Napier or Ryan Boatright?
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Traditionally, the UConn Huskies basketball team has been built around dominant big men who can control the paint on defense and grab boards and second-chance points.
But this year is about anything but tradition in Storrs.
There's a new coach, a ban from postseason play this season,, and a young team that is built around a talented duo of guards in junior Shabazz Napier and sophomore Ryan Boatright.
Both have shown flashes of brilliance at times and an ability to take over games and both will be crucial to Kevin Ollie's ability to build a team that can compete for Big East and NCAA championships in the coming years.
Napier, averaging 16.6 points and four assists per game thus far this season, has the pedigree of a winner. As a freshman in 2010-11, he effectively backed up Kemba Walker on a team that won UConn's most recent National title.
He has seen his scoring average go up each year from 7.8 points per game as a freshman, to 13 points per game last year and finally this year's career high.
Boatright, on the other hand, is in just his second year with the program and is averaging 15.9 points and 4.6 assists per game. Like his backcourt mate, he has made tremendous strides this season and is second in scoring.
It's hard to assess which of these players will be most vital to the team's success going forward.
This season is all about growth and implementing a new coach's system. It's not about wins and losses, though those build confidence, but about figuring out which pieces fit and which don't.
Thus far, both players have shown an ability to be big parts of the offense, but it's no guarantee that either or both will be back in a UConn uniform next year.
Napier has previously commented that both he and the team are playing for next season when they'll be tournament eligible, and possibly quite formidable, but his solid play this year could tempt him to look for the big bucks of the NBA.
Add that to the fact that he already has both a Big East and national title on his resume and we could easily envision a scenario where he leaves.
Boatright, on the other hand, is more likely to stay. He's only in his first season as a starter and along with Omar Calhoun could form one of the nation's best backcourt combinations next season should Napier leave.
His willingness to distribute the ball and get others involved, while also securing his own shots, is something that separates him from the pack.
Boatright is extremely unselfish, leading UConn in assists this year, and has received high praise for his speed and explosiveness to the rim from Ollie.
Not many players in the country can match him step for step and now that he's added a few pounds to his frame, he's better able to use that speed to slash on the inside.
You can't go wrong with either of these players. Both have star skill sets.
But Ryan Boatright's upside, combined with the possibility that Shabazz Napier won't be suiting up for the Huskies next year, makes him more vital to UConn's success both this season and going forward.
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