Huskies get back to work with Newtown very much on their minds

Storrs - Every school day Kevin Ollie walks his 11-year-old daughter, Cheyenne, to the bus stop.

He feels blessed to be able to continue that ritual with his daughter after what transpired on Friday in Newtown.

With emotion and compassion in his voice, Ollie, a father of two and UConn basketball coach, spoke Sunday about the Newtown tragedy.

"That hit home," Ollie said after practice at Gampel Pavilion. "It's been an emotional couple of days for me. … We're an hour and 15 (minutes) away. That could have been any of our kids. … I walk my daughter to the bus every day. Twenty families didn't get their sons and daughters back.

"It's just tough."

UConn will honor the Newtown shooting victims and community tonight with a moment of silence before its game against Maryland Eastern Shore at 7 p.m. at the XL Center in Hartford. The Huskies also will wear a special patch on their uniforms.

Ollie hopes at some point the Huskies can visit Newtown to provide some support.

"We're going to try to get down there," Ollie said. "I don't know if it is going to help. But it's better than just sitting here and doing nothing. We're going to try our best."

For now, they'll keep the families and community in their prayers and thoughts.

The day after the tragedy, Ollie discussed the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre that took the lives of 20 young children and six adults with his team on Saturday. He encouraged them to "love" their families and reach out to strangers.

"It's unspeakable what happened down there," Ollie said. "Our hearts go out to them. I brought the team together. It's more than basketball. … It's a tragic day, but I know the state of Connecticut, the whole country and the whole world is behind us.

"Hopefully, we get through this. It's going to take a lot of time for grieving but I think we're going to do it together."

The stunning news also rocked the players.

Shabazz Napier still can't believe that the horrifying news is true. He was exposed to gun violence growing up in the Boston area and knew of children dying there.

His thoughts turned to his 2½ year-old niece who lives in Boston and attends home games. She calls him "Uncle Bazz."

Over the weekend, Napier telephoned his sister and talked to his niece.

"It just hit me so hard," Napier said. "My niece comes to every single game. I can't replace the emotion that the family members have when they lost their child. It seems like their world is lost now. It struck me to the core.

"Those are children that are six or seven years old that can't live their life. Those are 20 futures. Some of those kids could have found a cure for cancer, something like that. It hurts. You don't want to see any child dying. My hopes and prayers go out to the families."

Junior Tyler Olander is a Connecticut kid, growing up in Mansfield and attending E.O. Smith. His mother is a sixth grade teacher in Tolland.

"It's just a really sad thing," Olander said. "It hits home in many different ways. It's really unbelievable that somebody would do that to 20 innocent children who really don't understand what's going on. …It's just hard to take in and kind of fathom all the events that occurred on that day.

"…. I thought immediately, what if this happened at my mom's school? It's really just tragic."

The Huskies (7-2) will attempt to turn their focus to basketball. They're coming off a 10-day exam break and heading into three-game stretch leading up to the start of Big East play.

Their opponent tonight (SNY, 7 p.m.), Maryland Eastern Shore (0-9), has lost by an average of 18.1 points per game.

During the next three games, Ollie is looking for more consistency from his Huskies in every area.

But no one was in any mood to talk in detail about basketball on Sunday.

"We've got to love each other," Ollie said. "Hopefully, we can get over this and, hopefully, we won't have to deal with this ever again."

g.keefe@theday.com

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