Category Archives: Shabazz Napier

UConn 60, Michigan State 54: Wrapping Things Up At The Garden

by Categorized: American Athletic Conference, DeAndre Daniels, Jim Calhoun, Kevin Ollie, NCAA, Rip Hamilton, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, UConn men's basketball
Date:

NEW YORK – What a day, what a weekend, what month.

What a ride.

I asked UConn fans via twitter if they would rather be in the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten or Final Four. Most who answered didn’t get it, but a few did.

The point being, quite frankly, the UConn brand endures. Kevin Ollie has been promising that, and his promises have a way of being kept. The Huskies will raise a banner of some kind when they come back to Gampel, as he promised. They are back in the Final Four, waving their “Amercian” flag, as Ollie said.

Conference affiliation matters, it matters in recruiting, it matters in money. But getting t the Final Four and winning it is about who you are. The Huskies had what it took, even if the AAC didn’t impress the selection committee.

It was joyous, the nets coming down, the celebration on the floor. The crowd was phenomenal. Players were wearing bits of the nets they cut down tied to their hats as reporters entered the locker room. The former Huskies were sharing in it.

Unforgettable day.

Here’s some Kevin Ollie at the podium:

   “It was just a great game plan.  Our players, our student?athletes executed the game plan perfectly.  My coaching staff came up with a great design out there and the defense was amazing.  It was great to get off to a great start, and we wanted to fight.  We wanted to throw the first punch and I think we did that.  At the end of the first half we had a lull, and then in the second half we turned it on.

                “It started with ball pressure with Ryan Boatright picking up, then everybody denying Harris, because Harris got off on us the second half.  And we started having our attention there.  Shabazz did a great job, and then our bigs did an exceptional job.  Phil Nolan came in and give us huge minutes.  DeAndre was on the string and then didn’t let Dawson go off any.

                “It was just an amazing feeling to do it in Madison Square Garden, and for the NCAA not to be here for 50 years and then we come out and we win it, it just puts a great bow on this gift.  And we’re going to unwrap it again and we’re going down to Texas.

“We’re going to see where it takes us.  We play a great Florida team and we’re going to be well prepared, because I know about these guys’ heart, and that’s what got us through, it was a heart of a champion, heart of a lion and I love these guys.

“You can’t take it for granted.  I thank Coach [Jim Calhoun] for giving me this opportunity.  I knew what I had, though.  I had faith in my players, I had a great coaching staff, two of my coaches coached me and got head coach experience, and my belief in God.  I knew God was going to give me a way out of no way.  And I thank Him for this opportunity.  I thank Coach for always being there.  I thank my AD and my president, that gave me an opportunity and signed me for that one?year deal and then extended me during the season and their faith in me.

                “I just want to make these kids better people.  If we can do that and win a National Championship on the way, that’s good.

“We got a lot of great fans out there and we got a lot of great student?athletes that came through UConn.  You can see everybody come back Andre Drummond, Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, Richard Hamilton, even players that you don’t even know in the NBA.  It’s a big family.  And that’s what Coach created and I’m glad he passed me the baton, and I’m just trying to run on it and try to still create that environment, because it’s all about family with UConn.

“[The Huskies] did a wonderful job.  Yes, Big?10 is known for that, but American Conference is known for it, too.  And we got our American flag waving out our window going down to Texas.  And we’re going to keep it up high, and we’re going to keep playing the right basketball.

                “We’re physical, too.  Don’t get it mixed up.  We are predators out there.  And we’re going to go in and we’re going to do a great job.  We’re going to not only use our physicality with our muscle, we’re going to use our physicality with our mind.  I think that’s what we did tonight.  When they were physical, we played the right type of game.  We made hard cuts, we were going downhill, we shared the basketball.  And then when we get up to the free?throw line, that’s our toughness.

                “It doesn’t have to be a wrestling match.  We use our toughness mentally.  I think we put on the board ‘concentration and mental toughness’, and that’s what we had today.  Because concentration, if you go 18?for?18 in the second half, you got to be mentally tough.  And that’s what we have been doing if you’ve been watching us.  And we get up to that free?throw line, we knock them down.

 

“Madison Square Garden is a great place.  I don’t care if you ?? now from here whenever I walked in here in the NBA.

 ”It’s always in the back of your mind and thinking about certain things, is this the right job?  Should I stay in the NBA?  You have those thoughts going on in your mind.  But at the end of the day I wanted to be close to my family and I wanted to come back to my second family, which is my UConn family.  And just to be around Coach all the time and him believing in me, even before this coaching thing, even as a 17 year old and believing in me that I could be a point guard.  And passing up on a lot of guards to have me come way from Los Angeles to Connecticut is like unbelievable.  And he always believed in me from day one.  And I thank him to death for it.  And that’s what I told him in his ear.  ‘Thank you for believing in me.’

                “And you know what, I can do this job, but I need a lot of help.  It’s not just a one?man show.  That’s why I got a great coaching staff, that’s why I got great players, and that’s why I want to just keep forging on and keep building.  Don’t lay on your success.  Keep building on your success.  I think we’re doing that and we are going to enjoy a trip to Texas again.

“That was just a great experience.  It’s a great time when you can get on that ladder, but I was really taking my time.  One step at a time.  And that’s what you got to do to get up top of the ladder.  You can’t skip no steps.  And the last two years we didn’t skip no steps.  We took one step at a time.  I he keep telling you that and that’s what it’s all about.

                “Guys believe.  They didn’t get out of their roles and they believe in each other, and we call it something called Level Five and that’s a championship mentality, and if we can have Level Five all the time, and not only on the basketball court, in the classroom, too, we’re going to be fine.

                That’s what we try to strive for each and every day to have that Level Five and play for one another and play this game the right way.  The right way is believing in what’s on your chest, on your chest and not what’s on your back.  We don’t play for what’s on the back of our jersey, we play for what’s on the front.  And it’s a great, great school that’s on the front.”

 

*****

Shabazz Napier was the Most Outstanding Player of the Regional. He averaged 23.3 points per game in Buffalo and Manhattan. DeAndre Daniels was also on the all-Regional team, along with Adeian Payne, Gary Harris and Duston Hogue.

Napier has now played in 141 games, a UConn record. He scored 1,925 to pass Ray Allen on UConn’s scoring list.

****

I messed up on Twitter. I thought Tom Izzo said he called timeout to give UConn fans a chance to enjoy the moment. He said he DIDN’T call timeout for that reason, but to convey something to his younger players. Want to set that straight. Here is his quote.

 “ Sometimes you got to pay the price of the process and sometimes ?? the reason I called timeout with six seconds left, it wasn’t so that the UCONN fans could really enjoy it a little longer.  I just told our underclassmen and that, that I didn’t think ?? we had a couple stretches where we didn’t bring it, but we did and I don’t want to ?? don’t trademark the line, but out?of?body experiences, a couple times I came out of the huddle and I was shaking my head, like I haven’t seen this before. Sometimes that happens with pressure.  Sometimes it happens with fatigue, and I just wanted our team to capture the moment and learn from it, so next year we can be better at what we do.”

 

****

All kinds of stuff from Paul Doyle, Jeff Jacobs, Rich Messina, Brad Horrigan and myself going up on our site throughout the night. Rich Coppola will have lots on FoxCT tonight, do check all that out.

… Well, I’ve done eight Super Bowls and 10 World Series for The Courant, never a Final Four. Glad to be adding that to my career. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some travel arrangements to make!

UConn vs. Michigan State: Setting The Scene at The Garden

by Categorized: Andre Drummond, DeAndre Daniels, Jim Calhoun, Kevin Ollie, NCAA, Niels Giffey, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, Tyler Olander, UConn men's basketball
Date:

NEW YORK – The Huskies and Spartans are on the floor, the start of the NCAA East Regional final is about 25 minutes away.

Let’s set the scene at Madison Square Garden. Anna Negron has just belted out the anthem, impressively one might add.

Kevin Ollie’s featuring a light gray suit today.

UConn’s staying with the lineup it has been using – Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, DeAndre Daniels, Phil Nolan and Niels Giffey.

You know Lasan Kromah and Amida Brimah will be off the bench early, Terrence Samuel will get in  there for a spark. One wonders if Tyler Olander, who has played only three minutes in the tournament, gets some action today against this big Spartan line. He played well against MSU in Germany.

Michigan State starts Adreian Payne, Brandon Dawson, Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Denzel  Valentine, no surprises.

Your refs: Mike Roberts, Tom Eades, John Higgins.

Andre Drummond is in the house, watching his former teammates. Imagine if he were on this team as a junior? Anyway, he was down behind the UConn bench chatting with Jim Calhoun.

Classic matchup today, not much to be said that isn’t already up on our website. UConn has the better backcourt, Michigan State the stronger front court. Let it fly.

UConn Vs. Michigan State: Taking The Train, ‘Not Backing Down,’ Notes, Quotes and Thoughts From The Garden

by Categorized: Alex Oriakhi, Andre Drummond, Jeremy Lamb, Jim Calhoun, Kevin Ollie, NCAA, Niels Giffey, Roscoe Smith, Shabazz Napier, UConn men's basketball
Date:

NEW YORK – First, how to get there. Metro North will again provide a special train, added to its regular schedule of trains running between New Haven and NYC’s Grand Central Terminal on Sunday morning.

Here are the details from  the Governor’s Office:

Governor Dannel P. Malloy announced that MTA Metro-North Railroad will run a special, extra New Haven Line train on Sunday, March 30, to accommodate the UConn men’s basketball fans expected to travel to New York City for the NCAA tournament game at Madison Square Garden (MSG).

 

“With another great win last night, I have no doubt that thousands of Husky fans will be heading down to the Garden on Sunday to show their support,” said Governor Malloy.  “Another win, and our next stop will be the Final Four.”

 

The special train – the “Huskies Fan Express” – will depart from New Haven’s Union Station at 10:40 a.m., and will make just three intermediate stops before arriving at Grand Central Terminal at 12:23 p.m. The train will stop at West Haven at 10:45 a.m., Bridgeport at 11:03 a.m., and Harlem-125th Street at 12:10 p.m.

 

For the return trip, the train will be ready and waiting at Grand Central to depart as needed based on what time the game ends and fans arrive at Grand Central.

 

UConn games at the Garden have historically drawn big crowds from the Bridgeport and New Haven areas, and many of the fans take Metro-North to the games. Fans are urged to buy round trip tickets at their boarding station.

 

******

The Huskies have a different destination in mind: Arlington, Texas, home AT&T Stadium, also known as Jerry World, for the Cowboys owner who built it. UConn toured it during their disastrous Houston-Dallas trip at the start of 2014, a reminder of where Kevin Ollie wanted them to go. “It seemed far away then,” Niels Giffey said.

Now UConn is one game away.

But the road is blocked by Michigan State, and that’s formidable. The Spartans have size and experience inside, and the tandem of Adriaen Payne and Brandon Dawson could be too much to handle. We’ll see. UConn’s guards are more experienced, which gives them an advantage.

Whether UConn’s backcourt or MSU’s front court takes control, the game will be about defense. Both teams hold opponents under 40 percent. UConn’s defense broke down in the second half against ISU, something that can’t happen Sunday if the Huskies are to have any chance.

Lot of talk at the podium about Tom Izzo replacing a legend, or program-builder in Jud Heathcote and how Kevin Ollie is doing the same. It’s not easy, more often than not it proves impossible, but both these guys have done it. They were around earlier and players and/or assistants and had the support of their predecessor, but, mainly, both are very comfortable in their own skin and that’s probably the key to stepping into a high-pressure situation like this.

This is the topic of my main advance for the game. Paul Doyle is writing about Payne, Jeff Jacobs about the slap-gone-viral. Lots of stuff in the UConn notebook. Just a ton UConn content on our main web pages, going up this evening, including John Altavilla reporting from Nebraska with the UConn women.

Let’s change it up, and give you some Shabazz Napier stream of consciousness at the podium:

“Like I’ve always said, I felt like I owed this university a lot.  I felt like after my first year we won, and the sophomore year I didn’t play up to my capabilities.  I felt like I owed the Continue reading

UConn 81, Iowa State 76: Wrapping Things Up At The Garden

by Categorized: Daniel Hamilton, Jim Calhoun, Kevin Ollie, NCAA, Niels Giffey, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, Terrence Samuel, UConn men's basketball
Date:

NEW YORK – Well, here the Huskies are. On Jan. 2, when the Huskies were in Dallas and Kevin Ollie took them out to Arlington to tour the site of the Final Four, what did you think? On March 5, when he grabbed the mic at Gampel Pavilion and said he planned to come back in April and raise a banner, what did you think?

Kevin Ollie is no Don Quixote, it turns out. He knew what he was doing, talking about. His belief in his players, even as he was chiding them after tough losses, is paying off in a big way  now, isn’t it?

One win away. The Huskies will play Virginia or Michigan State for the chance to go back to Arlington, for real, on Sunday. Wow. What a ride it is becoming;  the Huskies appear to have caught lightning in a bottle. Can’t put anything past them now. Here’s the game story for the Saturday Courant.

Here’s Kevin Ollie at the podium:

“First I just want to thank all the fans that came out and supported us.  We can really hear them cheering for us, but then we could also feed off them.  We can also draw off their energy.  They just did a wonderful job.  My student?athletes played together, they played hard, and at the end of the game we played 40 full to get this win.  And only thing we’re looking forward to is a Sunday matchup, whoever that might be, and we have to stay together and play another 40 full [minutes] and get the win.”

Coach [Calhoun] just said ‘Congratulations’, and I love Coach and I love him being around.  He’s always a sounding board for me.  If I ever have a question he’s always there to answer it.  He’s like a second father to me.  He really gave me an opportunity to take over this program, and he’s built this program on pride and tradition.  And I just want to continue to keep the torch alive.

                And he’s passed me the baton, and I’m just trying to run with it the best way I know how, and the best way I do know how is to keep our team together, keep us Continue reading

UConn Men Vs. Iowa State: Setting The Scene At The Garden

by Categorized: American Athletic Conference, DeAndre Daniels, Kevin Ollie, Lasan Kromah, NCAA, Niels Giffey, Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier, Tim Abromaitis, UConn men's basketball
Date:

 

 

NEW YORK – We are looking live at the Mecca of Basketball, the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden. NCAA Sweet 16.

It has been home of some of the greatest events of the 20th and 21st Centuries, and tonight it is home for UConn men’s basketball. The Huskies and Iowa State are about 45 minutes away, and we set the scene. The players had a shoot-around here earlier today, and were just on the floor warming up. They’re back in the locker room now.

The UConn Pep Band is making its way into the arena and to their seats, to a round of applause

I was in the city today, but I’m told trains from New Haven on into Grand Central were packed and loud. The arena is teeming with New York media big wigs – or, to quote Mel Brook’s line from The Producers, “the toast of society is burning tonight.” I passed Jim Calhoun and John Thompson on the way to my courtside seat.

Thanks to Joe D. for having me on the WTIC-AMm 1080 pregame show, always a pleasure.

The Huskies will stay with the lineup they’ve used since March 13: Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, Continue reading

UConn-Iowa State At Madison Square Garden: The Talking Is Done, It’s Time For The Main Event

by Categorized: Jim Calhoun, Kevin Ollie, NCAA, Shabazz Napier, UConn men's basketball
Date:

NEW YORK – It’s chilly outside and, for some reason, shivery inside here in the basement of Madison Square Garden, but there will be plenty of heat and electricity in the building 24 hours from now.

The Huskies and Cyclones wrapped up their day of practice and press conferences. All that’s left is a good night’s sleep, and the game at 7:27 p.m. on Friday. UConn tries to avenge its loss to ISU two years ago in Jim Calhoun’s last game.

Spent some time with the TBS broadcast crew when I got to the Garden, here’s a post on that.

The Huskies, who practiced elsewhere earlier, just did a shoot around for the public at the Garden at noon. Ollie was exhorting “game speed, game speed.” UConn will need to be up to speed; Iowa State plays fast, likes to score within 10 seconds. Transition defense will be a key for the Huskies.

Both coaches are relatively young, 41, and spent 13-14 years in the NBA, so it’s inevitable that some pro style is intertwined in their approaches. That’s the focus of the main advance for the Friday Courant. Bill Raftery thinks all four coaches in this regional could coach in the NBA, if they aspired to.

Shabazz Napier was asked if he watched the NCAA Tournanent last year. “To be honest, I didn’t watch one game. I was more into River Monsters. … I love to fish.” (Who knew?)

Another one of those one-on-one duels Napier hates to talk about, this time with DeAndre Kane, is the subject of the UConn notebook for tomorrow. We also have our capsule look at the matchup, photos from Brad Horrigan, video. Jeff Jacobs is writing about the ticket frenzy, the importance of playing at Garden and all of that. Paul Doyle is writing on UConn’s history of great point guards. … There’s an avalanche of content going up on our main website as the night progresses.

Got a nice e-mail from Maureen Bialosuknia, whose husband, UConn legend Wes “The Continue reading

The Origin of ‘Onions,’ Kevin Ollie’s ‘Guarantee,’ And Other TBS Tales

by Categorized: Kevin Ollie, NCAA, Shabazz Napier, UConn men's basketball
Date:

 

NEW YORK – Spent some time with the TBS broadcasting crew for the UConn-Iowa State game, and it’s a familiar one. Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery and Allie LaForce worked the games in Buffalo.

… Raftery has a myriad of catch phrases, but the one on everybody’s lips lately is “onions.” That’s what he shouted two years ago when Shabazz Napier hit his game-winner at Villanova, and Napier never forgot it. Raftery came up with it, on impulse, doing a Nets game with Ian Eagle a few years back.

“The Nets had been struggling,” Raftery said, “one of those road trips, I think it was the Heat, and Kevin Edwards hit a jump shot at the buzzer and I supposedly blurted it out then. It was just something that I thought described guts, intestinal fortitude, courage under fire, all  these things. Every announcer is trying to come up with a new way of saying the same thing. Now, having watched Kemba [Walker] doing so many great things, Napier has taken that torch, that obligation.

“I use it to be descriptive, late in the game, if it fits. Late in the game, it’s a play-by-play guy’s realm and if you do say something, you can’t elaborate. It’s got to be – pow – and get the heck out. That lent to the timing, too.”

Lundquist was working with Raftery during a Siena-Ohio State tournament game in 2009 when he almost ran out of onions.

“Two seconds left, the young man [Ronald Moore] hits a three to tie the game and Bill yells ‘Onions,’” Lundquist said. “Now we go to OT and the same kid cans a three for the win, and he goes  ‘onions … double order.’”

That moment lives on YouTube.

“When we walk into a college arena, you hear, ‘man to man,’” Lunquist said, “so I know that’s coming. Somebody up in the rafters yells ‘onions.’ And Bill is such a gracious guy, he waves.”

Lunquist and Raftery did the UConn-Louisville game on March 8, and that’s what has Lundquist so impressed with  this Huskies team.

“Yeah, 81-48,” he said. “We did Louisville-UConn less than a mobth ago, 81-48, and here they are Continue reading

Kevin Ollie On WFAN: UConn Has Come ‘Full-Circle’

by Categorized: Jim Calhoun, Kevin Ollie, NCAA, Shabazz Napier, UConn men's basketball
Date:

NEW YORK – The Huskies finished up practice Wednesday and headed to Manhattan.

I’m told, BTW, Shabazz Napier practiced both Tuesday and Wednesday and though his bruised right shin in a little sore, it didn’t limit him.

Meanwhile, Kevin Ollie appeared with Mike Francessa on WFAN, the full interview can be dialed up here, along with Jim Calhoun’s interview with Francessa earlier in the show. Ollie went over the state of the UConn program as the Huskies ready for Iowa State and the Sweet 16. One of Ollie’s themes: The Huskies, denied the chance to play in the Big East Tournament, earned this twist of fate that has landed them back at The Garden for something even bigger.

Ollie:

“We just stuck together. I had players that bought into system and culture we were trying to build. It’s kind of come full circle for us. We weren’t able to play in last Big East Tournament last year, now they get this chance and these kids deserve everything.

“The sanctions kept us out last year, from playing in the last Big East Tournament we were going to be able to participate in. It was tough. When you keep fighting in those dark days, this is what happens. I’m so proud of these guys for not giving up during the dark times. Now, look at the possibilities. We have a chance to go to Madison Square Garden and play a great Iowa State team and maybe get a chance to play for the Final Four in our back yard.”

 Lots of content coming on courant.com, including my story on UConn’s history at The Garden, and Paul Doyle’s look at the highlights of that history, a photo gallery, some cool footage of the UConn-Manhattan NCAA game in 1956, and my chats with Jim Calhoun and Oscar Robertson at MSG this morning at an NCAA press conference. The Big O had an interesting take on Shabazz Napier. All that is going up on our main site

and will be in the Thursday Courant.

Shabazz Napier Makes NABC’s All-America First Team

by Categorized: Shabazz Napier, UConn men's basketball
Date:

Another honor is in for Shabazz Napier. He was named a first-team All-American by the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC).

Earlier this month, the US Basketball Writers named Napier to their All-America first team, so he is on his way to “consensus” All-America status as the Huskies get ready to play Iowa State in the NCAA’s Round of 16 at Madison Square Garden on Friday night. That will be Napier’s 140th game in a UConn uniform, tying the school record.

Napier leads the Huskies in scoring (17.8), rebounding (5.9), assists (4.9), steals (1.8) and minutes played (34.8) per game. He scored 25 points in 25 minutes as the Huskies beat Villanova in the NCAA third-round game last Saturday in Buffalo.

He is on the final watch lists for several upcoming awards, including the John Wooden and Oscar Robertson player of the year awards, the Bob Cousy award for the nation’s top point guard and the NCAA’s Senior CLASS award for all-around achievements.

The others on the NABC first team are Nick Johnson of Arizona, Doug McDemott of Creighton, Nik Stauskas of Michigan and Jabari Parker of Duke.

Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg: UConn Guards ‘As Good As We’ll Face All Year’

by Categorized: Kevin Ollie, NCAA, Shabazz Napier, UConn men's basketball
Date:

 

Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg was available to reporters on a conference call today. We’ll have much more later, but here are some tidbits:

On Kevin Ollie:

“I consider Kevin a very good friend. He was one of the best teammates I ever had. No doubt in my mind he would be a successful head coach, just because of how smart a person he is, off court and on the court. Neither of us were guys you go to, great players, per se. But both of us ‘thought the game.’ I couldn’t be happier for what Kevin has accomplished.”

On the matchup:

“Those two guards are as good as we’ll play against all year, at play making, breaking the defense down off the dribble, creating for themselves and teammates. Their shooting numbers are off the charts, they have guys who can hit from outside if you help out on penetration, it’s a difficult for anybody. And Napier, when  you face somebody who can absolutely take over a game at any moment, that’s a tough prep for anybody”

More on Shabazz Napier:

“The one thing with playing in the Big 12, you’re going to prepare yourself for this moment, you’re going to face every style, every system, great guards, great big men. But this kid presents a little different challenge because of how explosive he is, his ability to Continue reading