Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Shabazz is Shabazz, Kemba is Kemba, Let’s Stop Comparing Them
NEW YORK — Jim Calhoun coached Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier to a national championship in 2011.
Now that Napier has led the Kevin Ollie-coached Huskies back to another Final Four in Texas, the inevitable Kemba/Shabazz comparisons have resurfaced.
And we’re likely to get another week’s worth as UConn heads to North Texas to meet Florida in the Final Four on Saturday.
But Calhoun says it’s time to settle down on the comparisons between the two diminutive guards.
“There’s no comparison, they’re both great players,” Calhoun said in the middle of the Madison Square Garden floor after the No. 7 Huskies completed a 60-54 victory over No. 4 Michigan State in the East Regional final thanks largely to Napier’s 25 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists that helped garner him Most Outstanding Player honors.
“It’s unfair to compare anybody to anybody,” Calhoun added. “One guy had a great run, the other guy’s having a magnificent run.”
“Shabazz is Shabazz and Kemba is Kemba,” UConn assistant Ricky Moore told SNY.tv moments after the victory. “They led the team in two different ways and it’s all about winning to both of them.”
The comparisons are inevitable.
Napier learned from Walker as a freshman on that 2011 team that won five Big East Tournament games in five days and then six more postseason games in the NCAA Tournament.
But unlike Walker, Napier played his conference postseason tournament in Memphis, not New York.
And he did not win it.
Walker also never had to miss out on the postseason and watch episodes of “River Monsters” because of substandard APR scores the way Napier did as a junior.
Like Walker, Napier is having a huge postseason.
He’s now scored 93 points in four NCAA Tournament games.
“Best PG in the country. Shabazz Napier,” Walker Tweeted Sunday afternoon.
“When you have the best player on the court at the end of the game, you’re going to win a lot of games,” Calhoun said. “We had the best player on the court just about every game this year.”
Calhoun praised Napier’s obvious leadership skills.
“Guys would follow him across the desert for a drink of water,” he said, adding to reporters that he had “swagger” and “positive arrogance.”
Walker and Napier are both 6-1, yet while Walker went No. 9 in the 2011 NBA Draft, Napier is currently projected at No. 51 by DraftExpress.com.
Still, Napier’s stock is rising fast.
“First-round [pick],” one veteran NBA scout told SNY.tv. “Smart, tough, clever, lives for the big moment. Has improved every year.”
Said a second NBA scout: “Second-rounder, third guard [on an NBA team].”
Those close to Napier say the comparisons with Walker don’t bother him.
“He embraces it,” Moore said. “He loves Kemba so he embraces it. It’s a challenge to him and every game he goes out and competes.”
Napier’s is the youngest of Carmen Velasquez‘s three children. She sat courtside talking to reporters after the game, explaining how her son’s first words to his mother after the victory were, “Don’t cry.”
Asked about the comparison with Walker, Shabazz’s mother says she doesn’t get tired of them.
“No, I don’t,” she said. “He learned so much from Kemba, so it doesn’t bother me because that’s a brotherhood right there. He learned so much from Kemba.
“He knows a lot but you have to keep learning as you go further and further down the line. Just like Terrence Samuel, he’s learning from Shabazz now so it’s something special. You could never be upset of that. Not at all.”
Kemba was Kemba.
Shabazz is Shabazz.
Let’s appreciate each on his own and leave it at that.
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.