MIAMI (AP) - Shabazz Napier is doing a lot of learning these days as he gets ready for his first training camp with the Miami Heat. New team. New city. New surroundings.
He knew all that would be part of his rookie experience.
But getting used to a new ball, he wasn’t expecting that one.
Sounds strange, but it’s true. One of the biggest points of personal emphasis for Napier - a two-time NCAA champion at Connecticut and a first-round draft pick this year - as he gets ready for the start of Heat camp next month is getting used to the feel of the NBA basketball, which is much different to the touch than the ones he used in college.
“I just want to continue to get better at everything,” Napier said. “But my biggest thing is getting comfortable with that basketball. That’s one of my biggest problems and it’s kind of ironic, because it’s a basketball. But it’s different than a college basketball.”
And he struggled with it in summer league as well.
Granted, he was in a pro game for the first time, but Napier’s summer-league debut last month in Orlando, Florida had him turn the ball over on his first possession - the first of eight giveaways he had that day. In 143 games at UConn, Napier never had that many turnovers in one outing. In nine games between Orlando and Las Vegas, Napier was charged with 38 turnovers in nine games.
That’s well above his clip of 2.9 turnovers per game in his final college season, which ended with a national title.
“The funny thing is, I never really touched an NBA ball until I left school,” Napier said. “I told myself I never wanted to. I felt like it was superstitious, like something bad was going to happen, like I had to earn it. I never touched it and it’s definitely different. This ball is leather and the biggest thing for me now is getting comfortable with it.”
At UConn, he used a Nike ball, and one of the quirks of the college game is that different teams use different types of basketballs. In the NBA, it’s uniform, with Spalding being the only ball used.
Napier isn’t the only Heat rookie who says the new ball has a new feel.
“It is different,” said Tyler Johnson, who parlayed a strong summer league showing into a Heat signing. “Especially coming out of college. A lot of times, if the basketball gets wet, it gets slippery. Here, you get your hands wet to make it stick. It’s slippery on its own. It takes a little while to get that feel for it. It is a little bit different but you kind of forget about it after a while.”
Napier hasn’t met all his new Heat teammates yet. Many of those introductions will come next month, when veterans begin returning to the practice floor in Miami to get ready for camp.
By then, Napier expects to be fully prepared for the Heat ways - and for the ball. He took a little time off after summer league, but has since settled in Miami and is spending plenty of time at work already.
“I think the biggest thing is that I put my best foot forward to help benefit the team,” Napier said. “By me going in the gym every day, by me going in with the coaches, the weight-room coaches, that’s how I put my best foot forward.”