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Napier's ready to handle the Heat

By SHANDEL RICHARDSON Sun Sentinel (Fla.)

Publication: The Day

Published June 28. 2014 4:00AM
Jason DeGrow/ AP Photo
Former UConn point guard Shabazz Napier answers questions at Thursday night's NBA Draft in New York after learning he had been drafted by Charlotte, then traded to the Miami Heat.

Miami — The newest addition to the Miami Heat is still overwhelmed by the endorsement.

Guard Shabazz Napier made plenty of memories while starring at UConn before being selected in the first round of Thursday's NBA Draft. Two national titles. First-team All-Big East. Leading the Huskies in scoring his final two seasons.

None of that compares to being adored by the game's best player.

Napier will enter this season's training camp as a potential solution to the Heat's point guard problems, but also as a player coveted by LeBron James. It was James who offered praise in April when Napier was leading UConn in the Final Four.

James then was the first on social media to congratulate the Heat for trading up two spots to land Napier, who was drafted by the Charlotte Hornets at No. 24 before being acquired by Miami.

Napier called James' strong backing "special."

"Sometimes you don't get recognized," Napier said. "If one of the best, if not the best player in the world is recognizing you, I definitely appreciate it."

Heat president Pat Riley said he wasn't meeting any demands from James. Both had a soft spot for the 6-foot-1 Napier. Still, it doesn't hurt to appease James during this important time. James opted out the final two years of his contract, so he could test other options. It was his way of saying the Heat need to do a better job of surrounding him with talent.

So why not grab a solid player while simultaneously satisfying the cornerstone player in the organization?

"He's a winner. He's talented. He's skilled," Riley said. "You just have to watch him play the game. ... I know LeBron tweeted something in the NCAAs about him. I mean, why not? I don't tweet. The point is, is that LeBron and I have the same taste in talent."

It was reported throughout the week the Heat would attempt to move up from the 26th spot to draft Napier. He was projected as a mid-round pick, but slipped into the lower portion.

The Heat actually planned to gamble to see if he would fall until their pick. They came up two short, but quickly dealt their first- and second-round picks of this year's draft and a 2019 second-rounder to the Hornets.

Napier said he never lost confidence during the wait.

"It was good, I had a ball," Napier said of the draft-room experience. "I was told I wasn't going to go that far back. I wasn't stressing. The look on my mother's face, the look on my niece's face had me not thinking about what was going on. I was able to focus, especially being with my family."

Family made the Heat drafting him even more enjoyable. Napier, who is half Puerto Rican, spoke of how excited he was about playing in an area diverse as South Florida.

"I'm definitely happy that my family can be part of that," Napier said. "My grandmother and grandfather were born in Puerto Rico. If I'm able to get them down for a game, which I'm hoping, it definitely would be cool for them to experience that."

The transition is expected to go as smoothly on the court. Riley said the Heat targeted Napier because his attributes fit into what coach Erik Spoelstra wants. The main requirements of the point guard in Miami's system are 3-point shooting, utilizing the pick-and-roll and playing off the ball, because James and guard Dwyane Wade are the primary ball-handlers.

"I know how to move without the ball," Napier said. "I understand with LeBron James being so smart and with Dwyane Wade and those guys who understand the game better than I do, I know they'll put me in great situations. And I'll put them in great situations. ... It's going to work hand in hand, I believe."

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