Connecticut looks ahead to life without Shabazz Napier

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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Over the past 15 years, Connecticut has always been more than just one player. It just so happened that the Huskies had star player after star player run through Storrs.

The list is too long to run through, but the baton was passed from Kemba Walker to Shabazz Napier after the 2011 championship. And after Napier carried the Huskies to another national title in Kemba-esque style, it's time for another star to step up for UConn.

But who will it be?

Right now, it looks pretty much impossible to replace someone of Napier's status.

"Shabazz is our LeBron James," sophomore big man Phil Nolan said.

It might not have been clear at the beginning of his career and he likely won't be regular NBA all-star, but Napier has obviously entered the annals of Connecticut basketball history. He'll be mentioned alongside everyone from Donyell Marshall and Ray Allen to Rip Hamilton and Emeka Okafor to Kemba Walker.

Napier is one of the all-time Husky greats.

"He's been phenomenal to this program," sophomore guard Omar Calhoun said. "For four years, he left it on all on the court. Everyone appreciates everything that he's done for this program. He's going to go down in history."

And now comes the next question: what's life like without Shabazz Napier?

At first glance, it's not going to be easy.

Napier was the do-everything player for Connecticut this season, the guy who would take the big shots down the stretch and make a play whenever it was needed. He also led the team in rebounding, and was the leader. There's no one tailor-made for that role, although Ryan Boatright's performance in the title game could indicate he's ready for a starring spot.

The junior had 14 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals in Monday night's win over Kentucky. Boatright has completely bought into a complementary role, but he'll need to take over next season.

If he's in Storrs, of course.

"I'm going to enjoy this as much as I can," Boatright said after the game. "I'm not thinking about my future right now. I'm enjoying the present. And we're going to celebrate with my team and my family. And I'm just blessed to be here in this situation. It's an honor to be a national champion and to play for this university.

"My future, I worry about that later. But I'm just going to enjoy the moment right now."

DeAndre Daniels is another player whose NBA future is up in the air, although it seems like his monster NCAA Tournament performance could push him to the draft. Sources indicate he's leaning toward going pro.

If Boatright returns, head coach Kevin Ollie still loses Napier, Daniels, Lasan Kromah, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander.

The two biggest additions for next season will be North Carolina State transfer Rodney Purvis and five-star wing Daniel Hamilton. Both are outstanding scorers and will likely make the offense more explosive next season than it was this season.

Obviously, it's more than scoring, though, and someone will need to step up in Napier's role.

"I feel like we can keep this up," Purvis said. "We're going to be a young team, but we're going to do whatever we gotta do to get back here.

"I've been picking Shabazz's brain all year. I know that expectations are going to be high. Now that we're here, we're going to keep it here."

The development of young players is going to be key as well. Nolan is solid down low, but 7-footer Amida Brimah needs to take the next step on the offensive end. With his defensive prowess, he can be a dominant force and a potential NBA draft pick in a couple years.

In the backcourt, the key will be Terrence Samuel, a freshman who came on strong toward the end of the year.

"His potential is crazy," Nolan said of Samuel. "He's strong as an ox. He's tall, can handle the ball. Sky is the limit for him."

"It's going to be a bigger role for me," Samuel added. "I've got big shoes to fill, but I'm going to work so hard this offseason. This is just more motivation."

Despite the options and numbers that Ollie will have next season on his roster, there's no clear-cut Shabazz Napier replacement.

But there wasn't a clear-cut Kemba Walker replacement either.

Someone will emerge as the next Husky star. It's the UConn way.

"This is what we do," Ollie said. "We are born for this. We bred it to cut down nets. We're not chasing championships; championships are chasing us."

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