The distance from Roxbury, MA to TD Garden is only a matter of miles. The trip from Charlestown High School is even shorter. Shabazz Napier grew up practically a stone’s throw away from the arena he will walk into next season as an NBA player. There is a chance, too, that building could become the place he calls home.
This summer, Napier is a projected first-round pick after leading the University of Connecticut to a national championship last month. His hometown team, the Boston Celtics, have two first-round picks following a rebuilding year. The possibility of Napier landing in Beantown could be very real, and he would be thrilled to play for the historic franchise.
“It’d be crazy. It’d be really, really ironic,” Napier said at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago. “I’m from Boston and I grew up a Boston fan. To wear white and green, that’d be insane. There’s a lot of history, a lot of tradition there, a lot of pressure. But I’m good with pressure. I’m not too worried about that.”
Pressure is something Napier has proved he can handle. He won two NCAA titles during his four years at Connecticut and was named the 2014 Final Four Most Outstanding Player, among other honors. The 6’1 guard averaged 18 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game during his senior year. He recorded 22 points, six rebounds, three dimes and three steals in the championship showdown against the University of Kentucky.
Napier credits his time in college for preparing him for the “ups and downs” of the game. Now, it is time for him to take the next step.
“It’s easy to move anywhere after you win a national championship,” Napier said. “It’s something you work so hard for, and when you believe in something and there are a lot of doubters and you prove them wrong, it’s a beautiful thing.”
The move could take him away from New England, as there will be plenty of suitors for Napier in the draft. He knows he may have to view his childhood favorite as the opponent in the pros. Few players actually end up wearing their hometown uniform.
“When you’re from Boston, you’ve got to go with the Celtics,” Napier said. “But whoever’s team picks me, I’m going to change that. That’s just how it goes. I’m a Boston kid, home of the championship Celtics, Red Sox, Bruins and Patriots. When you grow up in Boston, that’s the team you root for.”
Napier referred to the notion of playing for the Celtics as “ironic” more than once. A bigger irony is that even as he developed into a standout athlete, he didn’t consider becoming a member of the team as a real possibility.
“I never thought about it,” Napier said. “Of course your aspiration as a kid is knocking down the game-winning shot for your team, and I probably had a lot of game-winning shots for the Boston Celtics. You definitely have aspirations, but I never really thought about it would come to real life.”
Time will tell.
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