NEW YORK -- The NBA dream might have passed by Shabazz Napier if not for an extra year at UConn.
One NBA scout -- who did not want to be named -- said Napier went from a mid-to-late second-round pick a year ago to a legitimate first-rounder by returning for another season.
"He's a basketball player who competes at a high level," the scout said. "He's shown a level of talent where he's forced people to evaluate him (who might have been looking at younger players instead)."
The majority of the 20 players gathered Wednesday afternoon in the Majestic Ballroom at the Westin Hotel for a pre-NBA Draft media session used college as a springboard to the pros.
Napier did the same with the Huskies, but also earned his degree in sociology last month, making him just one of three players -- joining Michigan State's Adreian Payne and Creighton's Doug McDermott -- heading to Thursday night's NBA green room at the Barclay's Center to graduate.
"People might think it's weird, but it's kind of amazing I feel me walking across the stage for my graduation this year was more important than winning a national championship," Napier said. "That (championship) kind of put the icing on the cake for me. To have my degree and do something I've always looked forward to, it's definitely cool to be here.
"But I stayed four years to be able to get my degree and I did that."
Napier, according to one Western Conference scout who spoke to Hearst Connecticut, is projected to be taken in the latter half of the first round. But the 6-foot-1 guard's name is already swirling in trade rumors with the Miami Heat -- one of 10 teams Napier worked out for -- reportedly trying to trade up for him. The chance to possibly play with former Husky Ray Allen along with superstars Dwayne Wade and LeBron James -- if he re-signs with the Heat -- is flattering, but Napier is taking the rumblings in stride along with the rest of the draft experience.
"I'm not really worried about that," he said. "The only thing I can worry about is playing basketball. I really don't feed into media, I don't get into it. I actually just got on Twitter this morning.
"I don't do a lot of Internet stuff to look at where I am at. To be even mentioned and be in the green room and get drafted is a blessing to me, so I am just taking it in stride."
In a draft full of unproven collegiate players who are viewed to have high ceilings, Napier enters with an impressive resume that includes two national titles and a Bob Cousy Award, which is given to the top point guard.
However, Napier's former college coach says the guard is not undervalued.
"Thing is, when you watch the games after the savvy and basketball IQ and all those things, he probably isn't," said Jim Calhoun, who coached Napier for two years before retiring at UConn. "But there is no tangible measure, no matrix on making big plays, on seizing the moment, and the past two years, he's done a great job with that.Read Full Article
"I won't say he's undervalued, but I'd certainly like to have him on my team."
While Napier's draft stock has risen, former Husky teammate DeAndre Daniels opted to skip his senior season and is projected to be a second-round pick or not be taken at all.
"You never know," said UConn coach Kevin Ollie, who was not drafted but went on to play 13 years in the NBA. "I know Shabazz is pretty much, I won't say lock, but that's what they are saying (to go in the first round).
"DeAndre maybe can sneak in there. You just need one; you don't need all 30 teams to like you. You just need one general manager to like you and one owner to fall in love with you."
If Daniels returned for another season as Napier did, he might have more love going into the 2015 draft. Instead, scouts are wondering what the 6-foot-8 forward might transition to at the next level.
"He's an intriguing kid because he's probably a first-round talent without the maturity physically yet," said Calhoun, who talked to the world championship San Antonio Spurs regarding Daniels.
While Daniels might come to regret not coming back for another season, Napier has no doubt he did the right thing, and also made his mother, Carmen Velasquez, happy, too.
"At the end of the day what I was always told was basketball can bring you many places, which is true," Napier said. "And basketball can keep you running and keep you going, but you're only going to play competitive basketball until you are 40 or so. My mother always told me education is going to stay with you forever no matter what happens."
And no matter what happens at the draft, when Napier walks across the stage and greets Commissioner Adam Silver, his four years at UConn will have all been worth it in his eyes.
"When we play basketball we all have aspirations to play in the NBA," he said. "And especially being in the green room, being in the green room and shaking the commissioner's hand, it's something that I always looked forward to, but it took a lot of hard work."
NOTES: UConn freshmen Daniel Hamilton and Rakim Lubin were both on the Storrs campus Wednesday morning. JUCO guard Sam Cassell Jr. arrived several weeks ago to start his summer classes. ... In addition to his mom, Napier had multiple family members make the trip to New York with him. The family planned to go to dinner Wednesday night and just relax afterwards. ... It was a big day for Napier, who finally joined Twitter after resisting the urge for year. Napier's user name is @ShabazzNapier