Saturday, January 7, 2012

Leadership? 'There's None,' Says Jim Calhoun

Jim Calhoun was asked if there is currently a lack of on-floor leadership with UConn right now.

"There's not a lack of it," he responded, curtly. "There's none."


With words like that, all eyes immediately turn to Shabazz Napier, the sophomore point guard and team co-captain (along with Alex Oriakhi). Napier had some very interesting words after Saturday's loss to Rutgers, acknowledging that Calhoun may have largely been centering the criticism on him.

“I took it a little personally, but I understand what he’s saying," Napier said.

He then went on to say how his teammates don't always respond to him the way he'd like.

"I try to tell the guys, I feel as if I’m their best leader. Sometimes they give me a chance, sometimes they don’t," Napier continued. "That’s just how it is. It’s just basketball, I guess. Losing like this, I’m not here to … be the captain because it gives you an ego boost. I’m here to win games. I hate losing games as much as anybody in the world. I try my best to be a leader, even though guys don’t give me a chance to be that person. It shows in the game, I can’t lie. When we have a tipped ball and big guys get the ball and I’m yelling for the ball back out, we’ve got a new shot clock and they go back up … that shows I’m not that much of a leader. When a play starts breaking down and I’m yelling, ‘Bring it out, bring it out,’ and Boat or Jeremy takes a shot, that just shows that I’m not a leader. It sucks, because we lose games like that. But I try my best. I’m just a human being, I try to do my best in helping my teammates out. If they don’t want me to do it, that’s on them, but I’m still going to be scratching and trying to do it, because I hate losing. That’s the worst thing ever.”

Napier added:

“I’m not saying (some players) have their own agenda, I just feel they don’t understand what’s going on. I feel as though I’m the closest to Coach. I feel as though I understand what Coach is thinking about. I understand how to play along with Coach, because I’m the point guard, so I have to be the coach on the court. Sometimes the guys don’t listen to me. It sucks, but hopefully this practice on Sunday and this game on Monday go well, because I don’t understand why we’re losing games. I feel we have one of the best teams in the country. You keep on losing games, you’re selling yourself short.”

Napier said he addressed the team in the locker room after the game, before Calhoun came in.

"I just was really focused on what we did last year as a group. I told them our problem, some players only have one identity. You score a lot in the previous game, you come to this game with that same identity. I told the guys, each game is different, you have differnet roles. You have to transform into that differnet role during the game. You score 30 points one game and come back, you’re not going to score 30 points the next game … these guys don’t understand that, they think if they score 30, they’re going to score 30 the next game. Or if you get 20 rebounds, they’re going to get 20 rebounds the next game. Once you have that one identity, you’re not as good as a team any more.”

Interesting stuff.

No one is trying to pin the lack of leadership solely on Shabazz, said Andre Drummond.

“It can’t be just one person," Drummond noted. "Everybody’s got to be a leader, you know? We’ve all got to step up and do our part, and everybody’s got to find their role.”

*** Calhoun noted that he feels his team is resting its laurels too much on last year's national title.

“I think there’s times the hangover continues," he said. "The hangover’s bad for us. Right now, we have guys who think they’re something they’re not. They’re good kids, but the game is won by the hungriness with which they approach the game. (Rutgers) stayed with it, and we didn’t do that.”

Indeed, this is the first time in 12 tries that Rutgers has defeated a defending national champ. Coupled with the Scarlet Knights' double-OT win over then-No. 10 Florida on Dec. 29, it's also the first time Rutgers has defeated top-10 opponents in consecutive opportunities.

Calhoun added: “We went through this last year. We were 9-9 and struggled at times. But we never struggled like this. It’s a lack of other things, it wasn’t a lack of putting forth our best effort and focus every night.”

*** That's it for now. Long ride home, fairly early open practice to get to tomorrow as UConn looks to rebound Monday night against tough West Virginia.

At least that game won't be played in New Jersey.

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