A Trail Blazers offense bereft of scoring, creativity, and plays that make you say “wow” found a new spark with Shabazz Napier this season—a former University of Connecticut star who appeared to be on his last NBA legs. Napier is no slouch; he was a part of two National Championships at UCONN, even being the focal point his senior year and taking home a bevy of awards.
It was at UCONN that Napier came under the wing of current NBA All-Star Kemba Walker. Kerry Eggers of the Portland Tribune highlights Walker as one of Napier’s main role models:
"Kemba was a mentor that year, being able to learn under him," Napier says. "If I didn't know what it meant to be a professional, I knew after watching him every day in practice and in games. It taught me that hard work overcomes anything. I live by the motto, 'Hard work is undefeated.'"
After four years at UCONN, Napier was drafted No. 24 overall by the Miami Heat in 2014. There he engaged with another mentor, 11-time NBA All-Star Chris Bosh:
"The best vet I ever had," Napier says. "He taught me so much on and off the court. He got me into reading before games, reading books that I didn't have to read.
"I was a sponge around him. I've always wanted to learn from great players. I was fortunate to have him and Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem in Miami. Chris always told me no matter what was going on, don't stay high or low. Stay even-keel and understand that the path of life is never straight. It's always up and down."
Napier has other important people in his personal life. His mother, Carmen, was the point guard’s rock growing up. He also learned from former NBA player Will Blalock as an elementary schooler, even though Blalock was eight years older.
Coming to Portland, Napier expanded his support net. Head coach Terry Stotts has been first-hand at the guard’s rise:
"'Bazz' is very professional. He is confident in his ability, but understands his role on the team. That role can fluctuate from not playing to being part of the rotation. He is always prepared. When I put him in a game, he is ready to play. If he doesn't play, he is still prepared to play."
And teammate Damian Lillard immediately jelled with Napier’s personality, both dedicated to their craft and out to prove something:
"'Dame' and I bonded real fast," Napier says. "It's because we're so much alike. We both always had a chip on our shoulders. We always had many folks who don't believe in us.
"He sees that in me. I go to him many times to talk about things outside of basketball. It's great to have someone in that position who understands the hard times and the beauty of coming out of the concrete."
Napier’s ability to shake things up in Portland might just make for a successful pairing beyond this season.