STORRS — Some kids want to be Michael Jordan when they grow up. Some kids want to be Larry Bird. Some kids want to be Magic Johnson.
Shabazz Napier? He wanted something even more magical than that.
"Growing up," Napier said after, whoops he did it again, "I wanted to be Superman."
OK, it's officially scary now. Forget John Wooden's Pyramid of Success. Forget any book on basketball fundamentals you ever read. Forget any summer basketball camp you ever attended.
This is down to DC and Marvel comics now. We've run out of words to describe Napier's last-minute, heck, even last-second heroics. Is it mystical? Is it ethereal? Is it supernatural? After Napier completed a four-play with 33.5 seconds left and after he beat Florida 65-64 with a 15-foot shot at the buzzer, I swear I am in no position to argue against any of it.
Kevin Ollie, a religious man, invoked God's name.
Napier invoked the Man of Steel.
Florida coach Billy Donovan called Napier's last shot "luck."
"The guy who won the game for them was DeAndre Daniels," said Donovan, who demonstrated that he is just smart enough to outsmart himself at the microphone. "He made an unbelievable tip out off balance which kept the ball alive."
Donovan did call Napier a "big shot-maker," but he certainly could have given Napier a little more credit on the final play.
But, hey, believe what you want.
I've given up on the Bazz-adjectives. After all those overtime wins last year, after a string of last-moment shots that, dang, he's starting to make Kemba Walker, Richard Hamilton and Ray Allen look pedestrian in the heroics department. All I can say is even when he loses control of the ball, it comes back to him. Even when he misses the big shot, the ball comes back to him and he makes a bigger shot.
"Some players take the shot he takes and you'd call them bad shots, but he's really efficient at knocking them down," said mammoth Patric Young, who scored 17 points and helped foul out much of UConn's corps of post players. "Alertness, I believe [with Napier], being in the right place. The guy averages seven rebounds a game, so it's no surprise he came in there and grabbed that last one."
That's right. Even Young, who at 6-9, 240, looks as if he could move buildings with one arm, called it no surprise that Napier got the rebound that led to his four-point play when he got fouled by Dorian Finney-Smith as he sank a long three-pointer. Even Young, who Ollie said has muscles on his muscles, called it no surprise that Napier grabbed the rebound of his bad shot with a couple seconds left that Daniels tipped back for the winning basket.
"It still hurts," Young said.
Of course, it does. Napier seems to hurt most every opponent at the end. Look, Florida showed people how UConn can be beat. The Gators are big and strong. They rebound and play stout defense. You look at the stat sheet and wonder how they lost this game. But they did. One word explains why. Napier.
If you don't believe in miracles with this guy, well, you just haven't been watching. Even on the four-point play, he looked like he may be gone. He landed hard on his ankle. Ollie had to call a timeout and worry if somebody else would have to shoot the free throw. Napier thought he had hurt his right ankle again. That's his old war wound. No, it was his left ankle that was twisted.
"The athletic trainer, he taped my ankle so hard today," said Napier, who finished with a game-high 26 points. "I was thinking, 'Why is he taping it so hard? It's not normal.' But I didn't say anything. I'm glad I didn't. If he had taped it a little lighter, I probably would have hurt myself even more."
See. Even the tape jobs are tied into some kind of destiny.
These are exactly the kind of games UConn has to play going forward in the American Athletic Conference. They've got to play out-of-conference powers, even when it means home-and-home setups. The sellout crowd, especially the students, was outstanding. Gampel Pavilion was electric. Gampel Pavilion was ear-splitting. You put 3,000 more seats in a retrofitted arena and I'll be honest, I'll buy the argument that all UConn home games should be played here — at least when the semesters are in session.