Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Shabazz Napier Understands BC Rivalry; Kevin Ollie Understands LOI Hesitancy

UConn takes on Boston College Thursday night at 7 p.m. at Madison Square Garden in a 2K Sports Classic benefiting Wounded Warrior Project game. On Friday, the Huskies will face either Indiana or Washington, at either 5 or 7 p.m., again at the World's Most Famous Arena.

First things first: the Huskies will be wearing special pregame warm-up shirts for their two games. It's easy to forget that the whole idea behind this tournament is to honor and benefit the brave men and women who sacrifice so much for their country.

On to basketball: The UConn-BC "rivalry" resonates with Shabazz Napier more than anything.

“I’ve got a lot of history with BC. My older brother (Steve Hailey) used to play with them. Tyrese Rice, when he played, I was up there a lot with him. He was like an older brother to me, as well. When I was 13, I was up at BC just playing in the gym with my older brother Stevie Hailey, who went there."

Hailey, it should be noted, isn't Napier's biological brother.

"When I was younger, someone else took care of me, and he was one of the guys who took care of me," Napier explained. "I have six brothers that aren’t my real blood brothers, but I call them my brothers … It was hard for my mother to feed us, but they took care of me.”

Any way, Napier was surprised BC never offered him a scholarship until real late in the process.

"When I came here for my unofficial, and Coach Calhoun talked about how I was thinking about leaving my junior year, that’s when I got a call from BC," he recalled. "That’s when Al Skinner was getting fired, so they were just trying to see if they could grab me up. I was just like, ‘Man, y’all had so many opportunities to do that, and you never did.’ It’s OK. I’m glad where I’m at.”

*** Napier, by the way, is averaging 9.5 rebounds per game -- nearly six more than his closest teammate:

*** One more Shabazz note: UConn announced today that it will be playing in next year's Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Nov. 21-24 in San Juan, P.R. Napier's mother is Puerto Rican, and he takes pride in his heritage, even trying out for the Puerto Rican National team a couple of years ago.

"She cared a lot about being Puerto Rican," he said of his mother, Carmen Velasquez. "My grandmother who came up to my game last game against BU, I take good pride in it, because I know where they come from. They take great pride in being who they are, their culture. It’s exciting to know that. I wish we had went there this year. But, it’s not something I’m upset about.”

Especially if he's in the NBA.

“If I’m blessed enough to be there, yeah.”

*** Interesting comments from Kevin Ollie on the trend of top recruits no longer signing national letters-of-intent.

“You’ve got to be comfortable with it," he said. "That’s their decision. I’m comfortable with it. We’ve got verbal commitments, and we’re gonna stick by ‘til they de-commit. If they de-commit … we’re a pretty lady. A lot of people want to come here.”

Ollie didn't (and can't) comment specifically on UConn's three commits. The school has yet to announce whether its received LOI's from Daniel Hamilton, Sam Cassell, Jr. or Rakim Lubin.

“If they don’t want to come, then we’ll keep moving on. It ain’t like we’re an ugly duckling and nobody wants to marry us. We’ve got some other choices.”

“If you’re committed, you’re committed. Sometimes, it hurts when a coach opts to go to the NBA like Brad Stevens. I understand where the player’s coming from. Hopefully, the coach is telling you the right things and he stands by his word, too. It’s a give-and-take. Some kids are doing the financial aid so they won’t be bound, just in case I get fired, they can leave. I know some of the big-time players, the top-10, top-15, will choose to do that. But some of the top-15 are signing letters-of-intent, too, because they believe in the university.”

“As long as they show up when we start up on June 25, when our freshmen come up, that’s the thing I’m waiting for.”

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