UConn’s Shabazz Napier shows All-Americans can come in all sizes

The midseason stuff is for amusement purposes only, though. Teams’ schedules vary so widely it can be a challenge to compile a definitive list. When we compose the real Sporting News All-America team at the end of the regular season, we have a full complement of performances and data upon which to draw. No striking out then.

After what we’ve witnessed over the ensuing month, it is fair to say we shall not repeat our misstep regarding Napier. He has been so routinely terrific he is a much greater threat to make the first team than to be excluded from the third.

There may be no player more important to his team’s success, and Napier operates as though he is entirely comfortable with this circumstance.

With Memphis doing defensible defensive work on every other UConn player Saturday, Napier had to be nothing less than brilliant for his team to win an essential home game. And so he was. His career-best 34 points included the three-point play to tie the game, the 3-pointer that broke open the game in the final two minutes of overtime and the last of the free throws to seal.

“To be the player I want to be, you have to step up in these moments,” Napier said following the game, and he is precisely right. These sorts of performances win games, earn NCAA Tournament bids, maybe even comfortable seeds. They also are elements that inform an All-America debate.

Napier leads the Huskies in scoring (18.0), rebounding (5.8) and assists (5.5). Given that he is listed at 6-1, 180 pounds, we can definitively say: This is not normal. As versatile as UCLA’s Kyle Anderson is, and nearly a foot taller, he is second on his team in scoring while leading in rebounds and assists.

Napier’s willingness to find the precise area of the game he needs to control for UConn to succeed — and the impact of his success in these endeavors — is evident in numbers: six games of more than 25 points (UConn 5-2), 10 games of more than six rebounds (9-1) and 12 of more than five assists (11-1).

“He’s an All-American player,” Huskies coach Kevin Ollie said. “I know I might be biased, but he’s the best guard in America, to me, hands down. He just keeps focusing in on the things we need to do to win. He knows when it’s time to take over the game.”

There are a lot of things that go into be an All-American. Stats are a big part. Contributing to a winning team is another. But nothing seems more important than impact: How much do you matter?

Not many players have Napier beaten.