MEMPHIS – Let’s give Kevin Ollie and Shabazz Napier their Oscars. They did a magnificent acting job this week to hide the fact they knew by Sunday that Napier was going to be the AAC player of the year.
Ollie, on the coach’s conference call, made a better case for Sean Kilpatrick than he did for his own guy.
“Big-time players step up to big moments and Sean Kilpatrick has done that, not only for one or two moments but night in and night out,” Ollie said.
Napier, later on Monday, giggled a little and joked about how Jimmer Fredette won the individual awards instead of Kemba Walker in 2011, “but Kemba’s happy to have the championship Jimmer doesn’t have.”
Both had already found out Napier was the choice of the league’s coaches. Most of them seemed to favor Kilpatrick when asked on Monday, too, though several of the questions were more specifically about Kilpatrick. Rick Pitino responded, “Oh, did he win? I hadn’t heard.”
Anyway, it was all smiles – except on the Cincinnati side – when Napier walked into the Gibson Guitar Factory’s glittering ballroom with UConn’s contingent on Wednesday. The award was his and rightfully so. Kilpatrick was the leading scorer on a team with the best record, and that usually means player of the year. And he is basically the Bearcats’ whole offense. If he had won it, or if Russ Smith had, it wouldn’t not have been a terrible choice.
But no player could be more valuable to his team than Shabazz Napier is to UConn. He is the first to lead his UConn in scoring, rebounding and assists, plus a half dozen other categories. He just does it all.
“The guys is 6-1 and he gets five [defensive rebounds] a game,” Ollie said. “There’s just a tenacity there, he wants the ball. He’s not waiting, he’s meeting his giant each and every day. It’s just remarkable what he does on a day-to-day basis. I know I put a lot on him, to be the point guard, to be the extension of me, and he’s done it remarkably. I couldn’t ask for a better leader and a better point guard than Shabazz Napier.”
Napier also gave a wonderful, from-the-heart speech, thanking his mother, Carmen Velasquez, for all she has done, his coaches, teammates and UConn’s behind-the-scene staffers.
It was the right choice. And a good day for UConn. Napier also was named a first-team All-American by the US Basketball Writers, and there figures to be a few more awards coming his way.
Kilpatrick, who got the sportsmanship award, said he was disappointed and would use it to motivate him. “It’s going to be 20 times harder for other teams now,” he said.
Mick Cronin, coach of the year over Larry Brown, was a snippy, too, but he has a right to stick up for his players.
Ollie on Amida Brimah, who made the All-Rookie team on Tuesday: “We want him to keep working, keep having a chip on his shoulder. We’re going to need that balance to win it all, need our big guys to step up and give us a little more offensive and defensive end.”
Gonna head over to the arena now for to catch some of the preliminary games.
Lots of content for the Thursday Courant is going up on our website this evening. You’ll find the main advance for the game, the capsule look at the matchup, the player of the year story, with the complete list of awards, and pics from Rich Messina, the AAC tournament schedule, and all kinds of tournament tidbits.