When people hear the name “Shabazz Napier” they think of a two-time NCAA National Champion. They think of a kid who has become a household name. They think of the guy Miami traded for on draft night to try and make LeBron James happy.
But for me, I think of the feisty little kid with cornrows and glasses that I once called my teammate in the Roxbury YMCA’s “No Books, No Ball” basketball league. I think of his mom, Carmen Velasquez being the loudest in packed gym during our Saturday morning games. I think of his older brother Timmie leading his high school team to the state championship game at the Boston Garden and scoring 27 points.
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Before Napier became a two-time champ, household name and the main target on Pat Riley’s draft board, the Mission Hill native spent long days fine-tuning his game at Boston’s Washington Park.
“I’d be there from 10:30 in the morning until no lie, 8:00 at night,” the new Miami Heat point guard said. “My mom used to whistle..and if you heard the third one, you knew you were in trouble.”
Those long days began to pay off big time when Napier had his coming out party on the national scene at the 17U AAU Nationals in Orlando, FL while running the show for Metro Boston. In the midst of Metro’s run, Napier would match up with future NBA guards Phil Pressey and Austin Rivers while leading his team to the Sweet 16.
Metro Boston teammate and childhood friend Troy Robinson, who went on to play at the Division I and II levels, remembers Shabazz’s performance during their trip to Florida like it was yesterday.
“We knew we were matched up with Phil (who had formerly lived in Boston) and we made a joke about it amongst ourselves just to kind of hype [Shabazz] up a little bit,” Napier’s former teammate said. “But he’s pretty steady — he didn’t really get phased by it. When we played them, Shabazz guarded Phil from the jump and without a doubt, he won the matchup.”
After Metro’s upset victory over Pressey and Team Texas, spectators and coaches flocked to Napier’s next games, including a matchup with Team STAT and Austin Rivers in which Napier would drop 24 points.
“By the time we played Austin Rivers’ team, the whole sideline was packed out,” Robinson said. “He came out and torched them from the beginning. He was shooting NBA ranges. He went to the basket and it was against [Rivers] so it meant a lot to see him do it. I think once we won that game, he solidified himself as one of the best guards in the country.”
Suddenly, instead of hearing from local Atlantic 10 schools such as UMass and Rhode Island, Napier was catching the eye of major coaches in the Big East and ACC. Not only did his performance in Orlando prove that he was one of the nation’s top guards, but it showcased his toughness to the few who knew he was playing through injury.
“He was playing with turf toe the whole time we were down there,” Robinson said. “And he still lit it up.”
Shabazz would ride that momentum into his last year at Lawrence Academy where he would lead his squad to a perfect record of 29-0. In his final high school game, Napier scored 23 points against a St. Mark’s team that featured a starting lineup of five future Division I players. Shortly thereafter, Jim Calhoun extended the 6-1 point guard a scholarship and because of Napier’s work ethic and will to win, the rest was history. Napier both started and ended his collegiate career on NCAA National Championship teams.