There are probably quite a few college basketball players who are better than Shabazz Napier.
There are players who have more talent. Jabari Parker and Julius Randle continue to wow scouts with their athleticism and ability.
There are players who are more efficient. Creighton’s Doug McDermott fills up the stat sheet night in and night out on his way to what is most likely a postseason that will be filled with personal awards.
However, there is no college basketball player quite like Shabazz Napier, and few games demonstrate that fact quite like Saturday’s 86-81 overtime win over conference foe Memphis.
Napier is a whirling dervish of excitement. He’s bewildering, he’s explosive and he’s incendiary. But most importantly, he’s entertaining as hell.
Napier scored 34 points on Saturday afternoon, a career high, and chipped in with four of the Huskies' 11 steals on the day. With today's total, Napier moved into eighth all time on the UConn scoring list.
“Napier hit some big shots,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “He hit some really, really big shots. Tough shots, tough contested shots.”
“He’s an All-American player,” said UConn coach Kevin Ollie. “I know I might be biased, but he’s the best guard in America to me hands down.”
“Everybody sees this,” added Ollie. “18,000 of you see this, but what you don’t see is him not taking a day off. That’s what counts.”
However, even when Napier is at his best, there is always that unpredictability that has defined his career. Anyone who has watched UConn over Napier’s tenure knows what you get: stretches of genius, with a few moments of “what are you thinking?” sprinkled in.
After scoring nine straight points in the second half, Napier attempted an ill-advised 35-foot pull up jumper that bricked off the rim. It was a display of the confidence and swagger of Napier that has endeared him to so many, even if his play doesn’t make the most sense.
“Sometimes you get yourself in trouble with that and you take a lot of stupid shots,” Napier said. “I recall two shots, and I wish I could have taken those shots away. You’ve got to learn who you are, you never know enough, but I’m glad we got this win today.”
Napier was almost able to get his team the win in even more dramatic fashion, as his last-second buzzer-beating jumper helplessly swirled around the rim before falling out, much to the dismay of a sold out XL Center.
“It was one of those shots I call a toilet flush,” Napier said. “It didn’t go in, it just clogged up and came back out.”
Napier may not be able to carry UConn to a national title like his mentor, Kemba Walker. He may bring home the trophies and awards of a McDermott. He’ll most likely be drafted hours after players like Randle and Parker.
He may never be exactly like the players mentioned above, and that’s okay. He’s energetic, electric and, at times, frustrating as all hell. But at the end of the day, that’s what makes Shabazz Napier Shabazz Napier.
Where do you rank Napier among the nation's top players? Leave a comment below or tweet @R_Tolmich with your opinion!
All quotes obtained firsthand