UConn junior guard and leading scorer Shabazz Napier is going to play on Sunday when the Huskies host Rutgers at the XL Center.
A left shoulder injury that continues to plague the guard still bothers him, but it's not going to keep him out.
If the Huskies (12-5, 2-3 Big East) were a different team with oodles of talent and depth, perhaps the slow heal could be done. Not on this UConn team, and not with a player as important as Napier. UConn's leading scorer at 16.6 points per game and it's top playmaker and leader has to be on the floor for the Huskies.
Napier's shoulder has hurt every day for the last 13 days since Louisville's Wayne Blackshear fell on top of him. It's going to hurt, and Napier's going to play hurt.
What are the Huskies' expectations of their top player?
That he be their top player.
Napier isn't going to get bonus points from the staff that he is playing hurt, and if he doesn't play well, it isn't going to mitigate head coach Kevin Ollie's wrath. If you are well enough to play, you are well enough to play well. You can't full Ollie, who spent 13 years in the NBA and knows all about playing at less than 100 percent.
"You’re going to have nicks and bruises that you’re going to play through, but of course we’re going to be cautious of not having him out there weak and getting him hurt severely," Ollie said on Saturday. " We’ve got to have a balance and he’s got to understand that if it’s a pain he can play through, it’s just mental and hopefully he can get over it. But we’re going to also listen to (head trainer) James Doran and he’s going to give us the opinion on if we can play him or not. I’m going to have him give me that decision, too. If he can go out there and play, I don’t want any excuses.”
Napier hasn't been the same since the injury to his shoulder in the first half against Louisville. The junior guard is 2 of 15 shooting since the injury and after a subpar second half in a loss to Louisville had a mere eight points on 2 of 7 shooting, six of them 3-pointers, in a loss to Pittsburgh a week ago.
Napier has worked on the pain and hopes that he can perform somewhere at his expected level on Sunday. The pain is mot severe in the morning according to Napier and it gets better as the day goes on. Napier didn't absorb contact as the Huskies were practicing rebound drills and how he takes a physical game remains to be seen.
What he doesn't want to see is a repeat at Pittsburgh.
“It's frustrating, after the Louisville game I was upset with my performance and I said I have to work harder," Napier said. "I woke up the next morning and my shoulder was in so much pain, I didn't know what to do. Against Pittsburgh, I kind of played through it and didn’t play so well, either. It is frustrating, but it’s teaching me to be patient and understanding that my health is important and to make sure that I’m ready to play with my teammates 100 percent."
The Huskies are going to need Napier and all their guards against Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights like to play a three guard line in sophomores Jerome Seagears (4.5 ppg), Myles Mack (13.2 ppg.) and Eli Carter (15,6 ppg). UConn counters with Napier, Ryan Boatright (16.0 ppg.) and Omar Calhoun (10.9 ppg as the 3-guard lineup is something both teams feature. To help manage that, the Huskies need Napier at his best to run the show.
If not, the pressure falls on to a thin bench as R.J Evans is averaging only 3.7 points in 15.5 minutes while forward Niels Giffey is at 3.8 points in 20 minutes, hardly numbers that can replace Napier's production.
Napier is hoping that his shoulder won't be a long-term issue. He was in good spirits after practice on Thursday and