- Associated Press - Thursday, April 3, 2014

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) - Shabazz Napier can shoot, drive and dish, hit big shots, pick off passes, carry a team down the stretch of a game and a season.

Sounds an awful lot like another recent Connecticut star: Kemba Walker.

Playing with the poise and confidence he learned from his mentor three years ago, Napier has followed Walker’s footsteps but created his own path while leading the Huskies back to the Final Four.

“He’s really smart, knows when to go, when to pass,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said Thursday from Cowboys Stadium. “I think he understands the length and time of a game. He’s played a lot of minutes over his career, he’s been in big events and big venues.”

Walker had one of the great runs in college basketball history, leading the Huskies through five wins in five days in the Big East tournament and a carry-them-on-my-back trip through the NCAA tournament.

On that team was a confident freshman point guard who was still willing to ask questions, taking his opportunities when they arose, learning what he didn’t know from Walker and the other Huskies. Napier played in every game that season, averaging 23 minutes, 7.8 points and three assists.

Flash forward three years and Napier has another title within his sights.

UConn must first get through Florida (36-2), the tournament’s top overall seed, in one national semifinal Saturday night at Cowboys Stadium.

After that, the Huskies (30-8) would have to beat Kentucky or Wisconsin on Monday night to win championship No. 4.

Finish it off and Napier will secure a spot in history - alone.

“I just want to go out there, like I always say, and be myself,” Napier said. “At the end of the day, he (Walker) took that team to a national championship and I want to do the same. But, I’m going to do it a different pathway and I’m going to be myself.”

That the path is similar to Walker’s has led to the comparisons.

Walker was - well, still is - a slender point guard who was part scorer, part facilitator, beyond-his-size rebounder, defensive menace, clutch shooter.

The description fits Napier well.

A 6-foot-1 senior, he could have left the program after UConn was barred from the NCAA tournament last season for failing to meet academic standards. He stuck it out instead and returned to lead UConn with 18.1 points per game, 5.9 rebounds (tied with DeAndre Daniels), 4.9 assists and 1.7 steals.

Story Continues →