HARTFORD -- Sometimes an anecdote makes the point. Other times, it's a stat.

Tonight, we'll go with both.

Following UConn's hard-fought, tough-to-watch 73-66 overtime victory over Cincinnati Thursday, a reporter asked Kevin Ollie, "Could you take us through the last play in regulation? Was it designed just to get the ball in Shabazz's hands?"

Ollie, releasing a smile that he hadn't worn all night, simply replied, "Yeah, that was the last three minutes."

In 29:40 of overtime this season, Shabazz Napier has scored 46 points on 9-for-14 shooting from the field, 8-for-12 from 3-point range and 20-for-22 from the free throw line. If you're a stat geek like me, that's 62 points per 40 minutes. That's a modern-day Pete Maravich impression.

Those are some Brandon Jennings-on-NBA2K-rookie-level numbers.

Which begs the ultimate question: Will Shabazz Napier be in NBA2K14?

The inquiry wasn't posed quite so ridiculously, but Napier, who scored 11 in overtime Thursday, chuckled and deflected it.

"I don't know," Napier said. "I don't really think about that. As of right now, I'm just sad that (this season) is kind of at the end. If it was possible and this team was able to get to the tournament, I think it would make a crazy run.

"I just think we're so together. I think the NCAA tournament is going to be missing a great team."

Understandably, Napier, a junior, doesn't want to address the potential of an early jump to the NBA Draft until UConn's 18-7 season comes to a close.

"I'll just wait until the last game, think about it with my family and think about it with my coaches," Napier said. "But I'm for the team. I want to stay with the team. I'm always for my team."

At some point, though, he has to be for Shabazz Napier. Come March 9, he'll be faced with a difficult decision. It's clear that Napier, often frustrated a year ago, is having one hell of a time this winter. It's clear that UConn, which loses just R.J. Evans to graduation, can become a top-15 team -- or perhaps better -- if everyone returns.

But it's also clear that Napier's stock is soaring.

"We have a lot of great players in our league," Ollie said, "but the people not considering him as Big East Player of the Year, I don't know what they're doing."

And what, by the way, was Cincinnati doing?

"In overtime, Napier did that to us last year but we won anyway," said Bearcats coach Mick Cronin. "The scouting report says he's a streaky shooter. When he made the first (3-pointer), I understand, but not the second and third ones."

Clearly, Cronin hadn't seen game film from Quinnipiac, New Mexico, Marquette, Providence, South Florida or Seton Hall. Hey, he must have caught the 'Nova game.

Cronin and the national media may not be keeping close tabs on Napier, but NBA scouts sure are. A few weeks back, one Western Conference scout told Hearst Connecticut that Napier "seems a step ahead everyone else" and "seems feisty and tough." It seems, after a truly terrific junior campaign, that Napier's draft stock may be near its ceiling. Honestly, how much better could he play next season?

UConn fans want to suggest the fairy-tale story line: Napier returns for his senior year, the Huskies make a deep tournament run and then he gets drafted in the top 10. But the reality of it? I doubt NBA GMs put much stock in "deep tournament runs." And Napier, as prolific as he's been, will never be a top-10 pick.

Since 1995, only six players shorter than 6-foot-1 -- Napier's listed height, although he may be closer to 6-foot -- have been drafted in the top 10. They are, in no particular order, Allen Iverson (6-foot), Jonny Flynn (6-foot), Chris Paul (6-foot), T.J. Ford (5-10), Damon Stoudamire (5-10), D.J. Augustin (5-11) and Kemba Walker (6-foot-1).

Napier is great, but he ain't Kemba. He lacks Walker's jaw-dropping athleticism, and that won't change with a fantastic senior year or a run to the 2014 Final Four. It's safe to say Napier is done growing, too. So that means his two greatest knocks -- the only attributes holding him back from catapulting up the draft board -- will still be there a year from now.

Realistically, he projects as a second-round pick. Maybe, in this draft, he's a late first-rounder. After all, behind Syracuse's Michael Carter-Williams (6-foot-6) and Oklahoma State's man-child of a floor general, the 6-4, 225-pound Marcus Smart, the field is wide open. Michigan's Trey Burke, a 6-foot sophomore, figures to come off the board in the first round. Maybe Lehigh's CJ McCollum does, too. Should Napier declare, he's right in the mix.

Say he's plucked by the Knicks at No. 25 or by the Spurs at No. 30. Could an additional year of college land him in a better situation? Probably not.

But Napier gushes. In the aftermath of his latest rescue job, he rambles about his teammates, about the NCAA ban that keeps UConn from another potentially magic March.

"I know I'm getting sad about certain situations when I make jokes of it," Napier said. "I say a lot of jokes to the team about not playing in the NCAA tournament and I'm just making fun of it because I'm so sad."

Maybe that sadness -- coupled with the distinct possibility of a 2014 tournament run -- will seduce Napier into a return.

Or maybe he's just sad because he knows this is it.


@KevinRDuffy; http://blog.ct