HARTFORD, Conn. – Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie called a timeout early in his press conference Monday night after his team’s 84-50 victory over Maryland Eastern Shore.
Ollie had started his opening comments, talking about his team’s sluggish play in the first half. But he didn’t finish the thought.
Ollie said he had to thank his players, the cheerleaders and everyone who participated in a pregame moment of silence and candlelight tribute to the 26 victims at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on Friday. The deadly shooting has been on the minds of everyone in Connecticut, including UConn athletes.
This was the first opportunity for the school to honor their memory. There will be another moment of silence Wednesday when the women’s basketball team plays. But Ollie wanted Newtown to know his team will be there whenever needed.
“It’s just a sad day,” Ollie said. “But we’re going to continue, not just to have moments but have a movement where we can stop this violence. I think a moment is just not enough. We always have moments and then it goes away. Hopefully, we’ll have a movement. And hopefully we can get there soon. We’re trying to plan something after Christmas to get down there to Newtown.”
Ollie said that might be a practice, followed by an autograph session or clinic for children. No official plans have been made. The players have said they want to do that as well.
“We’re going to be available for whatever they want us to do,” Ollie said. “Hopefully it will bring a smile or two to their faces.”
UConn also announced Monday it has created a memorial scholarship fund to honor those who died.
"The Sandy Hook School Memorial Scholarship Fund at the University of Connecticut will cover college costs for students who currently attend the elementary school, as well as siblings of those killed in the assault and dependents of teachers and other adults who also lost their lives, who are accepted to attend the University in the future," the statement said.
Women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma and his wife, Kathy, gave an $80,000 lead gift to the fund.
“Over this past difficult weekend, Kathy and I gave much consideration to what we as a family could do that would have some significance for the future,” Auriemma said in the statement. “Because UConn is so important to us, we decided to establish a scholarship and encourage other UConn alumni, friends, and fans around the world to invest in the future of the Sandy Hook survivors.”
UConn players wore patches on the front of their jerseys with white letters “SH” on a green background. Those are the elementary school’s colors. Coaches and staff at UConn wore green ribbons with white trim.
|Moment of silence (UConn Athletics)|
Several players offered their own remembrances. Guard Ryan Boatright used a black marker to initial “SH” on his left cheek. Shabazz Napier, Boatright’s backcourt mate, wrote “26” on his right sock and “SH” on his left. During warmups, Napier also wore a white shirt with “Sandy Hook 26” written on it. And players from both schools wrote their own tributes on their sneakers. UMES guard Louis Bell had the “12-14-12” date on the back of each sneaker.
The UConn players attended a vigil in Mansfield Sunday night. Boatright said he has watched TV news coverage of the senseless shooting that claimed the lives of 20 innocent children and six adults at the school.
“It’s heartbreaking just to see that,” Boatright said. “I can only imagine what those families are going through. I have two baby sisters that I basically raised, and they were the same age, so that could have been my sisters. It’s a humbling experience and I feel sorry. All my prayers go out to all the families.”
Ollie said there were no rules. He wanted the players to express themselves in their own unique way.
“I’m not going to take that individualism away from them,” Ollie said. “We’re going to remember this but we have to continue to move on. But like I said, I don’t want it to be just a moment thing. We’ve got to remember and we’ve got to change. . . . Hopefully we can find a shining light in all the darkness.”
Four hours away, in Syracuse’s Carrier Dome, Orange coach Jim Boeheim also addressed the Newtown tragedy at about the same time. Boeheim had just become the third college basketball coach in history to record his 900th win but with his wife, Juli, and his children in the room, he closed his press conference with a comment on the Sandy Hook situation.
''If we cannot get the people who represent us to do something about firearms, we are a sad, sad society,'' Boeheim said. ''If one person in this world, the NRA president, anybody, can tell me why we need assault weapons with 30 shots... This is our fault if we don't go out there and do something about this. If we can't get this thing done, I don't know what kind of country we have.''
No one in Hartford knew of those comments Monday night. But it was known that Boeheim, the only remaining coach from the original group in the Big East in 1979, had reached his milestone.
“To get 900 wins you have to have longevity and some talented players too,” Ollie said. “But he’s a helluva coach. He went through the ups and downs and he just continues to coach. He’s a wonderful man.
“I remember him coming into my home, recruiting me in Los Angeles – him and [longtime assistant] Bernie Fine. I’ve known him a long time and I want to tell him congratulations.”
UConn assistant coach George Blaney said he loved the fact Boeheim got all 900 wins at one school.
“Only Jimmy Boeheim could live in Syracuse through all those years,” Blaney joked. “I love it. He did it his way. He has played zone almost the whole time. He’s a great offensive coach. His teams have always moved the ball and spaced the court well.
“And he’s a phenomenal recruiter. He’s had great players all the time. That’s a good recipe.”