NEW YORK -- For a New York minute, Shabazz Napier was heading for a reunion with Kemba Walker. But a funny thing happened on the way to the podium to shake NBA commissioner Adam Silver's hand Thursday night at the Barclays Center.
Napier got rerouted to South Beach.
Moments after being chosen by the Charlotte Hornets with the 24th pick in the first round of Thursday night's NBA Draft, Napier was traded to the Eastern Conference champion Miami Heat. The Heat traded their first-round pick, No. 26 overall, and two second-round picks to the Hornets,
"This is definitely a true blessing and it's just special because my family's here," Napier said. "You know my mother, my brother, my niece and my sister. It just makes everything so special for me."
UConn teammate DeAndre Daniels was taken with the 37th pick, in the second round, by the Toronto Raptors.
"This is a dream come true," said Daniels, who watched the draft in Connecticut with his family. "This is what I always wanted to do since I was a little kid.
"When I heard my name called, I started crying."
Napier, who is the 19th UConn player to be chosen in the first round, was reportedly a pre-draft favorite of the Heat and star LeBron James, who opted out of his contract with Miami earlier this week but could return under a new deal.
"My favorite player in the draft! #Napier," tweeted James, who was once a teammate of Napier's college coach, Kevin Ollie, in Cleveland.
Whether Napier's arrival can help lure James back to Miami remains to be seen, but the two-time national champion guard from UConn is happy to know he has a famous fan.
"I don't know if I'm bringing him back," Napier said. "I would love it. Me and LeBron's relationship, he's a great guy.
"I've been to his camps. Me and him chatted a few times at his camps. ... It's just something special to know that one of the best players in the world thinks about you and appreciates your talent. That's something that I'm so humble for."
After losing to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals, the Heat are in limbo with a host of roster questions, including the return of James and former UConn star Ray Allen along with the status of Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who can also opt out of their deals.
Miami's point guard Mario Chalmers is a free agent and backup Norris Cole comes off a rough postseason, so Napier could slide right in and become an answer. Read Full Article
"There's always opportunity to do something great," Napier said. "And no matter if I was going to slide in as a starter or come off the bench, I'm still going to work hard. I'm going to compete, that's who I am."
The early part of the draft was dominated by one-and-done players, with Kansas small forward Andrew Wiggins being the top overall pick. Duke's Jabari Parker (Milwaukee), Kansas' Joel Embiid (Philadelphia) and Arizona's Aaron Gordon (Orlando) -- all one-year college players -- followed before Utah broke the string with Dante Exum, from Australia, at No. 5
Napier was one of three four-year players to be taken in the first round, with Creighton's Doug McDermott going to Denver at No. 11 and Michigan State's Adreian Payne going to Atlanta at No. 15. All three players earned their degrees before moving onto the NBA.
Napier is the first Husky to stay for four years and be drafted since Hilton Armstrong was taken in 2006 by the New Orleans Hornets with the 12th overall pick.
"I'm just happy," Napier said. "I'm just happy I got drafted."
In four seasons, Napier won two national titles while averaging 13.7 points, 4.5 assists and 1.8 steals in a school-record 143 games. He finished as UConn's fourth leading career scorer with 1,959 points, was third in assists with 646 and second in steals with 251. He holds the school record for free throws made (509) and is second in 3-pointers made (260).
In jumping from college to the NBA, one thing remains the same for Napier -- he's going from one winning program to another.
"The first thing that jumps out is the winning attitude," said Napier, who worked out for the Heat before the draft. "That's one of the biggest things. When you compete at that high level, you want to win every single game."
UConn did not have anyone drafted last year. In 2012, Andre Drummond was drafted ninth by the Detroit Pistons and Jeremy Lamb went 12th to the Houston Rockets, but was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder before the season started.