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Good in green: Napier visits C's

6/16/2014

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Shabazz Napier swore the green-checked dress shirt was merely coincidental. Cleanest thing in the suitcase, he pleaded.

Chris Forsberg/ESPN Boston

Shabazz Napier dressed in green after his Celtics workout.Listen to Napier struggle to recount all the recent stops on his pre-draft tour and you can almost believe him (at least until there's photographic evidence that he wore, say, burnt orange after his workout in Phoenix). But Napier didn't try to hide the fact that this visit to the Boston Celtics meant a little something extra for him given his roots here.

Napier, a native of Roxbury's Mission Hill who played his high school ball at Charlestown before winning a pair of national titles at nearby UConn, worked out for the Celtics at their practice facility on Monday. It's the same gym that a maybe 10-year-old Napier visited for an Antoine Walker skills academy (so that's where the 3-point stroke came from!) long before his NBA dreams took shape.

For maybe just 10 more days, Napier is a Celtics fan and he took a moment to savor the setting.

"I came in [Sunday] night to shoot a little bit, and for about a good 5-10 minutes, I looked around at the banners," said Napier. "It’s just a warm feeling. It’s the Celtics. Growing up, when you’re a Boston fan, you get those chills every time you watch the game. It took me about 5-10 minutes to realize that I was here."

Napier is projected to be a mid-to-late first-round pick and could be available when the Celtics select at No. 17 next week. If he's chosen by one of the league's other 29 teams, his fandom will be checked on June 26, but standing beneath the Celtics banners on Monday, he indulged himself a bit.

"I grew up in Boston, so that’s all we know," said Napier. "We were watching one of the films in there that they put up and one of the guys was like, ‘Why were folks crying when Paul Pierce injured himself in the playoffs and they picked him up off the court?’ I said, 'That’s Boston. You won’t ever understand it unless you play for Boston or you’ve lived in Boston. That’s just how we are. We love our teams. There’s no bandwagon fans in Boston. Whether we have a great year or not, we all support like it’s the best team we got.' He was like, ‘Man, Boston is crazy.’ I said, 'That’s what we are. Some crazy fans that want nothing but the best for our teams.'

"It’s just crazy to even be here. I think it’s kind of insane. It’s a blessing."

But back to that dress shirt he sported after the workout. Coupled with the khaki pants and dress shoes, it was a reminder that this is a business trip. Napier doesn't even get to enjoy a quick break in his hometown as -- he said he'd have to check his itinerary to be sure -- but he was pretty certain he was headed straight to Houston after the workout.

By now you probably know the story with Napier: He's a gritty, shifty point guard who can both score and defend. His teams win, as evidenced by how he bookended his college career with national titles. During his senior season at UConn, he averaged 18 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 4.9 assists over 35.1 minutes per game and was the face of the program as the Huskies emerged despite being a mere seventh seed entering the tournament.

But Napier doesn't boast the freak physical measurements of many of the drafts top names. He's 6-foot-1 -- meaning he'll be tagged "undersized" by NBA standards -- with a pedestrian 6-foot-3 wingspan. There's little about his measurements that you can point to and say, "Look at this!"

But one glance at his college resume suggests he's pretty good at one thing: Winning. And that resonates with potential employers.

"[Winning is] big to me," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens after putting Napier and five others through a late-morning workout on Monday. "I think guys that win find ways to win."

Added Stevens: "I’ve always been a big fan of his. [UConn] beat [Stevens' Butler squad] in the national championship game when he was a freshman. And I was with him for 8 or 10 days in Colorado Springs that summer with USA Basketball. So I’ve spent a lot of time with him and watching him grow up. Obviously, a big-time player who, no matter what, when the lights are the brightest, he’s at his best. Kudos to him for the career that he’s had and it’s pretty incredible when you think about a guy winning two national titles in his four years in college. Big fan of his."

Celtics director of player personnel Austin Ainge echoed that often-heard sentiment about Napier: Little in stature, big on intangibles.

"Shabazz is not physically overwhelming, but he has toughness, intelligence, and skill. And he’s got extra savvy," said Ainge. "So he more than makes up for it. He’s going to make it [in the NBA] is my guess. He’s a good player."

After the San Antonio Spurs raised another Larry O'Brien trophy on Sunday night, both Ainge and Stevens noted a desire to create a roster that's deep at every position. The Celtics already have Rajon Rondo at the top of their point guard depth chart, while undrafted Phil Pressey emerged as a capable, low-cost backup last season. Napier would project to add depth at a spot the Celtics have struggled to maintain capable backup ball-handlers.

With Rondo working out Monday morning before the draft hopefuls took the court (and staying to observe a bit of the session), Napier got a chance to exchange pleasantries.

"When I saw him, I just said hello," said Napier. "I saw him and I thought he looked great coming back off his surgery. He said he’s been feeling great. We chatted it up a little bit. He’s definitely a great person. I would love to be under him. I’m going to be a sponge [and] he’s one of those smart guys that really understands the game. Me and him just chatted it up a little bit. He congratulated me on a great season and wished me good luck in the process."

Napier's workout featured five other players unlikely to hear their name called on draft night, but Celtics decision-makers already have a quality grasp on his game from four seasons of observations at a local (and successful) college program.

What does Napier want teams to take from these private workouts?

"Just [that I'm] a leader -- that’s kind of what I’m good at," said Napier. "I’m a communicator. I vocalize on the court. I kind of give instructions to help us win games. That’s one thing that I do well. I’ve been through a lot, experienced a lot. I understand what my team needs at certain times of the game. Like I said, there’s been times where I didn’t take a shot because I didn’t feel like it was needed. But when I felt like I needed to take a shot, I would. I kind of understand the game and being a leader is definitely one of the things that I can bring to a team."

Added Napier: "At the end of the day, you want to win. That’s just how it goes. It doesn’t matter if someone is 7 feet or 5 feet. If he knows how to win, he knows how to win. That’s kind of what I can bring. I’ve been through a lot. I didn’t win a lot, but I won enough. I’ve lost a lot in my life, and that helped me understand how to win games. At the end of the day, you want to be the last team standing, and to do that, you’ve got to win. That’s what I’m trying to convey."

If he conveyed it well enough, maybe he'll need to stock up on additional green shirts.