ORLANDO — This past April, Shabazz Napier led the University of Connecticut to the NCAA men’s basketball championship game against Kentucky.
Upon leading the seventh-seed Huskies to victory with 22 points, giving the program its second title during his four years with the team, Napier was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
To add, his performance during the tournament earned high praise from arguably greatest basketball player in the world – LeBron James, who tweeted to the effect Napier would be the best point guard in the 2014 NBA draft. Miami would go on to acquire Napier from the Charlotte Hornets, who drafted Napier with the 24th overall.
In his NBA debut Saturday at the NBA Summer League in Orlando, however, Napier showed the adjustment to the professional ranks isn’t as easy as it seems for college star players.
Against the Boston Celtics, Napier shot 0-for-8 from the field with four turnovers in the first half and missed his first 10 attempts. Napier struggled at times against second-year Boston guard Phil Pressey and rookie guard Marcus Smart. He finished with eight turnovers.
Napier did, however, flourish in the second half, finishing with 12 points on 3-of-15 shooting from the field as the Heat lost, 85-77.
“It’s a big learning experience for me,” Napier said.
Perhaps the future floor general for the three-time world champion Miami Heat, Napier said he will take his time this week in Orlando to get acclimated to the NBA level.
“I’m unable to do a lot of things I was able to do at the college level,” Napier said. “I have to find new adjustments on how to do those things. I still kind of had a college game coming in.”
Anytime you’re coming into your debut, you’re trying to perform at the high level and at times, I thought he sped himself up,” said Miami’s summer league coach Dan Craig. “And that’s one thing we talk about, slow down and let the defense make the mistake. Just make the easy play,”
But there was no indication Napier will be a player the Heat will regret in the foreseeable future.
“He’s a confident individual, he’s headstrong and if he makes a mistake, he’s right on to the next play,” Craig said. “I haven’t seen much carryover if he is making a mistakes with him getting down on himself. He usually bounces right back and he picks his teammates up to.”
During the next few days in Orlando, Napier said he’ll try to absorb and learn as much as he can.
“Just continue to adjust to the game and understand what I can do and get better,” he sad. “At the end of the day, that’s all I really can do. I can come in here and not be prepared or I can be prepared. I like being prepared for everything.”