Napier waiting for his name to be called in New York

Former UConn guard Shabazz Napier, working out with the Memphis Grizzlies last week, is expected to be a first-round pick in the NBA Draft tonight at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Napier, who was MVP of the Final Four during UConn's national championship run last season, worked out for several teams during the pre-draft process.
Former UConn guard Shabazz Napier, working out with the Memphis Grizzlies last week, is expected to be a first-round pick in the NBA Draft tonight at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Napier, who was MVP of the Final Four during UConn's national championship run last season, worked out for several teams during the pre-draft process. Mike Brown/AP photo

The NBA Draft is usually a night of celebration for the UConn basketball program.

Since 1996, 20 Huskies have experienced the joy of hearing their names called on draft night.

Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels, two members of the 2014 national championship team, are the latest players hoping to accomplish that feat.

Napier, projected to be a mid to late first-round pick, accepted an invitation to attend tonight's draft at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Daniels, who left UConn after his junior year, is expected to be selected in the second round.

"I always believed in myself to be able to be in this position," Napier said to reporters during pre-draft media availability Wednesday in New York. "For it to be here now, it's a special feeling, especially with my family.

"... When you play basketball, we all have aspirations of playing in the NBA, and especially being in the Green Room and getting your name called, shaking the commissioner's hand. It's something that I always looked forward to, but it took a lot of hard work. You have to dream big, but you have to try harder."

Both Napier and Daniels worked out for numerous NBA teams during the pre-draft process.

Napier's stock has been on the rise. Chicago (No. 19), Oklahoma (No. 21) and Miami (No. 26) are possible future homes for Napier, according to some mock drafts.

"He's doing great in every one of his workouts," UConn coach Kevin Ollie said on Wednesday. "I'm hearing all great things about him. Now it's what team needs a point guard. There's a couple of teams outside the lottery that need a point guard. He might slip into the lottery, who knows?

"I just know it takes one guy to love you. He has a lot of people that love him. I think he's going to get picked and hear his name get called. So it's really not about lottery and not about first round, it's about staying. I want my guys to have staying power. Hopefully, he has that.

"He has a can-do attitude. He's a really remarkable kid. I'm fortunate when I got the job that he stood by my side. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for Shabazz."

Ollie, who played for 11 teams during his 13-year NBA career, added that Napier was the best point guard in the nation last season. It's hard to argue considering Napier's accomplishments that include being named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player.

Napier has experience on his side, appearing in a program record 143 games during his four years at UConn, where he developed his point guard skills and grew into a respected leader, clutch playmaker and All-American. He's also been a winner, helping the Huskies capture two national championships.

"More NBA teams are trying to get guys ready to play right now," Ollie said. "Shabazz Napier is ready to step in right now in a starting role or back-up role and produce right away. That intrigues a lot of general managers and a lot of organizations that he can do that."

Daniels, an athletic and versatile 6-foot-8 forward, might have a tougher road than Napier. He had a terrific end to an inconsistent career, playing his best basketball during UConn's surprising NCAA tournament championship run. He averaged 16 points and a team-best 7.2 rebounds in six NCAA games and earned a spot on the All-Final Four team.

His NBA workout tour covered over 14 different teams. The Philadelphia 76ers, who own five second-round picks, are considered one of the teams interested in Daniels.

"He's long, athletic and he's shooting the ball very, very well at his workouts," Ollie said. "We want him to be more consistent in his effort. But I'm hearing some good things. I know he's with the Detroit Pistons today. They're very interested in him.

"... You can't teach 6-9 and shooting the ball the way he can. You can't teach that touch he has. That's what intrigues a lot of people."

Ollie has faith that Daniels will be selected tonight. He pointed out that even though Clifford Robinson had a long wait on draft day in 1989 before Portland picked him 35th overall, the former Husky went on to have a successful NBA career.

"At the end of the day, he got drafted," Ollie said. "It worked for Cliff. Cliff was in there for about five hours. He stuck (in the NBA) for 19 or 20 years. So that's what it is all about."

g.keefe@theday.com

Former UConn guard Shabazz Napier, working out with the Memphis Grizzlies last week, is expected to be a first-round pick in the NBA Draft tonight at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Napier, who was MVP of the Final Four during UConn's national championship run last season, worked out for several teams during the pre-draft process.
Former UConn guard Shabazz Napier, working out with the Memphis Grizzlies last week, is expected to be a first-round pick in the NBA Draft tonight at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. Napier, who was MVP of the Final Four during UConn's national championship run last season, worked out for several teams during the pre-draft process. Mike Brown/AP photo
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