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College basketball insider: Napier glad he stayed at UConn

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Arizona coach Sean Miller calls out in the first half against Wisconsin during the West Regional Final on March 29, 2014, in Anaheim, Calif.

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Monday, March 31, 2014, 9:39 p.m.
 

Western Pennsylvania natives Archie Miller and Sean Miller each fell one game short of appearing in their first Final Four. Archie's Dayton Flyers lost to Florida in the South Regional final. Sean's Arizona Wildcats lost to Wisconsin in the West Regional final.

For both Millers, the season served as an incalculable building block.

“The blueprint is now set that we know how to do it, and we will do it,” said Archie Miller, who guided Dayton to its first regional final in three decades. “We'll look back and think back how does a team get back here? Well, they have to approach things every day like these guys did.”

Both brothers followed similar blueprints, incorporating transfers into key roles this season. Arizona added former Duquesne point guard and Chartiers Valley standout T.J. McConnell, who led the team in assists. Dayton transfer Jordan Sibert (Ohio State) led the team in scoring.

“I told our team when I think of a team, I think of this team,” said Sean Miller, who reached his second regional final in five years at Arizona. “This is the best team I've ever been around.”

UCONN'S Napier glad TO RETURN

Connecticut senior guard Shabazz Napier was a freshman when the Huskies won the 2011 national championship under former coach Jim Calhoun. After Calhoun departed and the program went on probation, Napier, given the opportunity to transfer, decided to finish what he started with new coach Kevin Ollie.

“I felt like I owed this university a lot,” said Napier, whose role during his second championship run evolved from backup to star.

Connecticut faces Florida in a national semifinal Saturday, mostly made possible by Napier, who leads the Huskies in scoring, rebounding (tied for first), assists, steals, free throws made and free-throw percentage, 3-pointers and minutes.

“After my freshman year, I didn't play up to my capabilities,” Napier said of UConn finishing 20-14 and losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in 2011-12. Barred from postseason play, the Huskies went 20-10 the following year.

“My sophomore year, that's the reason why I didn't transfer. I didn't know how to be a leader at that point,” Napier said. “That's why I came back my junior year, the reason why I came back my senior year. I owed the university, the coaches and my teammates a good year.”

Amaker loyal to Harvard

Tommy Amaker's decision to bypass a more lucrative and prestigious coaching opportunity at a school in the ACC such as Boston College goes against conventional wisdom. Amaker elected to remain at Ivy League member Harvard, where he's 139-71 with three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances.

Amaker's previous coaching stint at Michigan didn't turn out quite so well, and it could explain his loyalty toward Harvard.

Amaker was fired after six seasons with the Wolverines and replaced by John Beilein. Michigan was on probation for Amaker's first five years. He led the Wolverines to three NITs, winning the title in 2004, and posted three 20-win campaigns.

Rebuilding at Boston College won't be easy. Former coach Steve Donahue suffered three consecutive losing seasons and never went to the NCAA Tournament. Amaker's unpleasant experience at Michigan may have given him pause about leaving Harvard.

Better late than never

Kentucky is the first team in NCAA Tournament history to defeat three opponents from the previous Final Four — Wichita State, Louisville and Michigan.

“I'm just happy we're playing better. Because I'm telling you, we almost ran out of runway when we landed the plane,” said Kentucky coach and Moon native John Calipari, who led the Wildcats to the 2012 national championship and has appeared in three of the past four Final Fours. “As a matter of fact, the nose of the plane was in grass. But we got down. That's all we were trying to do is land the plane. And if the runway was 25 games instead of 30 games, we probably went off the edge.”

Calipari placed huge demands on his freshman-dominated roster featuring six McDonald's All-Americans, and with good reason. With several of his freshmen expected to leave school for the NBA after one season, it will be Calipari's only chance to coach some of them.

Freshman Marcus Lee, who tallied 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks in 15 minutes in Kentucky's 75-72 victory over Michigan, only played because Willie Cauley-Stein was sidelined with an ankle injury. Lee had scored a total of nine points since January.

“The only thing they're thinking about when they come to me is themselves,” Calipari said. “They're freshmen who dominated the ball, did whatever they want. Most of them never got challenged, they were always by far the best player. That's the challenge we have coaching young players.”

 

 

 
 


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