Ballin’ In Beantown: Shabazz Napier, Boston College & Harvard

If you’ve visited DimeMag.com before, you’re surely familiar with the Drew and Goodman Leagues. You know, the leagues that have brought us a 51-point performance from Brandon Jennings, a near triple-double from LeBron James, and an off the backboard slam from Kevin Durant. But D.C. and L.A. aren’t the only cities where basketball is being played this summer.

If you take a trip to Roxbury, Mass.’s Tobin Community Center, you might not find a slew of NBA All-Stars, but the level of talent won’t disappoint. With the likes of UConn’s Shabazz Napier, Boston College’s Danny Rubin, Northeastern’s Joel Smith, and Harvard’s Kyle Casey suiting up, the Boston Athletes United For Change Summer League hosts some of New England’s top talent.

This past weekend, I journeyed over to Roxbury to check out some of the action. Here are some observations:

1. Shabazz Napier can be a great leader…if he wants to

I must admit, I was quite surprised to learn that Jim Calhoun had named Napier, a rising sophomore who came off the bench for the Huskies last season, co-captain for the upcoming campaign. But just a few minutes after Napier took the court, I started to see why.

In a game featuring a number of rising seniors, Napier was the most vocal player on the court. He barked instructions at his wings and motioned to his bigs where he wanted screens. When Brown’s Tucker Halpern missed a couple of open looks early on, I expected Napier to walk up to Halpern and say, “Look man, I just won a national championship, and you go to school with Hermione. Let me take the shots.” Instead, Napier found Halpern open on the next possession and yelled, “Shoot it Tucker.” Later on, Halpern hit the biggest shot of the game, sending the contest into overtime with a last-second three pointer.

But Napier’s display of leadership was far from perfect. With just over a minute to play and his team trailing by seven, Napier started settling for contested threes as soon as he crossed half court. Napier was relegated to the bench for the remainder of the game where he watched his team pull off a shocking comeback victory.

2. Watch out for Northeastern

The Northeastern basketball program gained some cred this spring when alumnus J.J. Barea cut through the Lakers, Thunder, and Heat defenses with ease. That trend could continue through the upcoming college basketball season.

Despite coming off an 11-20 season and losing their leading scorer Chaisson Allen (Dime #63) to graduation, Northeastern could surprise a number of teams. The squad returns 74 percent of its scoring, including rising junior Joel Smith, a dynamic scorer with a smooth jumper who showed his ability to score in bunches over the weekend. It doesn’t look like the 6-4 guard should have a problem taking over the primary scoring roll for the Huskies.

Incoming freshman Quincy Ford should also give CAA defenses problems. The 6-7 wing out of St. Petersburg, Fla. turned heads in the Tobin Community Center with his athleticism. The ceiling is high for Ford.

3. This will be a rough year for Boston College

It doesn’t take a genius to figure this one out. After just missing the NCAA Tournament a year ago, the cupboard is now bare for second-year BC coach Steve Donahue.

With Reggie Jackson deciding to leave early for the NBA, the Eagles will return just 12 percent of their scoring. Rising sophomore Danny Rubin, a former walk-on who averaged 4.1 points per game as a rookie, is Boston College’s leading returning scorer. Yikes.

Rubin lived up to his reputation as a knock down shooter over the weekend, drilling a couple of NBA-range threes, but it’s clear he’s more comfortable playing off the ball than creating his own shot. The Eagles will need to lean heavily on Oregon transfer Matthew Humphrey and their incoming rookie class.

4. Harvard has athletes

When you think of Ivy League basketball, highflying dunks don’t typically come to mind. But Harvard coach Tommy Amaker is clearly out to change that perception. Harvard’s frontcourt duo of Kyle Casey and Keith Wright wowed the crowd on a number of occasions with some rim-rattling dunks. Casey started the day off with a two-handed tip slam, and Wright followed with a one-handed jam off a pretty spin move. If you don’t know about the Crimson yet, get familiar. You will be hearing from them this season.

Who do you think will be Boston’s top college squad in 2011-12?

Follow Martin on Twitter at @MartinKessler91.

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