Time to….say good-bye

Llllllllllet’s get ready to crumble!

(Insert poor Michael Buffer impersonation voice here).

OK, so there may not be much blubbering by the UConn basketball team tonight. But it’s a safe bet there will be some tears during the Senior Night ceremony that will precede the Huskies’ clash with Rutgers Wednesday night in Gampel Pavilion.

Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey, Tyler Olander, Lasan Kromah, Tor Watts and graduate assistant Dave Sevush will be honored before the game. Each has contributed to the Huskies’ success but with apologies to the latter three, the initial trio will be missed most of all.

We had a chance to chat with them, along with coach Kevin Ollie, today in Storrs:

— THE FOUR-YEAR SENIORS really have been through quite a bit. They won a national title as freshman, under-achieved (sorry) as sophomores, were banned from the postseason for something they didn’t do as juniors and went through a coaching change the same year, and stuck around to put together a pretty good squad this year.

“Me, Bazz and Giff, we’ve been through it all together,” Olander said. “We really love what this program is all about. We love this school, the people involved in the program. The bond that we have is one that will probably carry on for a lifetime.”

— THEY VERY EASILY could have disbanded after two years. When Alex Oriakhi, Roscoe Smith, Andre Drummond and Jeremy Lamb left, others could have followed.

“We all talked about it, especially after that disappointing loss back then in the NCAA Tournament (to Iowa State),” Giffey said. “I just remember the atmosphere really being down. It was the guys that stayed here that really became close. We realize none of us were selfish. We didn’t put ourselves in front of the group.

“It was the same situation last year with Bazz coming back for his senior year and finishing school. That’s about more than basketball. It’s about your education, it’s about your experience, it’s about growing up as a man, too.”

“We needed those guys to stay and they stuck with us,” Ollie said.

— OLLIE CAME ON BOARD at the same time as they did. He left the NBA to become Jim Calhoun’s assistant before taking over two years later.

“I came in the same time they came in. I was kind of a freshman myself in the college profession. I think all of us grew together,” Ollie said.

— OLLIE HAD POSITIVE and interesting comments about all of his seniors. A few, however, were most telling.

On Napier:

“His name will be following Khalid’s (El-amin) soon up in the rafters,” Ollie said of the Huskies of Honor program. “And he deserves all the accolades he’s gotten. He’s been a tremendous person on and off the basketball court.”

On Olander (who was arrested twice during his tenure and was recorded in a rather infamous ‘music’ video):

“He was in Florida, rapping, and he’s not doing that stuff no more,” Ollie said. “He’s just grown. His GPA, being on time, different things.”

— ALL OF THE soon to be departed would like to keep playing basketball. Napier will get his shot to prove himself in the NBA, in all probability. Olander is talking about perhaps joining his older brother and playing overseas.

Giffey may also have options. It’s likely many German pro teams are salivating to sign him, but he’s not giving up on America just yet. Maybe there’s an NBA team out there he could find a spot with.

“I’m going to try to figure that out after the season,” Giffey said. “I think there’s always going to be a good spot for me back home but maybe I’ll stay somewhere else. I kind of like it in the U.S.”

— OF COURSE, THE Huskies have a rather important game to play as well. They still have an outside chance of tying for the regular season crown in the AAC and either way want to enter the postseason on a high note.

“Very important. We’ll get through that and then we’ll play basketball,” Ollie said.



About Neill

Neill Ostrout covers the UConn men's basketball team for the Journal Inquirer in Manchester. He has been a member of the "Horde" for more than 16 years.
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