Men's Basketball: UConn takes on Rutgers one last time on Senior Night
UConn’s Niels Giffey (5) dribbles the ball during a game against Cincinnati on March. 1 at the XL Center in Hartford. Giffey, a senior, will be one of the honorees on Wednesday night prior to the Huskies’ game against Rutgers as part of Senior Night.
It started off with seven, now it's down to three.
That's the number of players remaining on this year's UConn men's basketball team who joined the program as freshmen in 2010, and on Wednesday, those three- Shabazz Napier, Niels Giffey and Tyler Olander-along with senior walk-on Tor Watts, graduate student Lasan Kromah and graduate assistant Dave Sevush, will be honored on Senior Night prior to the Huskies' final home game of the season against Rutgers at Gampel Pavilion.
"Just looking back on the four years, the ups and downs, the good and bad, it's just been so fun and enjoyable and so many life lessons from so many different people," Olander said. "It's been an unbelievable ride and [Wednesday] night will definitely be emotional."
Those "ups and downs" include winning the national championship in their freshman year, losing in the second round of the NCAA Tournament the season after and being banned from last year's postseason by the NCAA due to poor academic progress rating scores from the past.
Through it all, they stuck with UConn.
"I think it's just a sign that we really wanted to be at UConn," Giffey said. "We wanted to be nowhere else. It was not always about ourselves, it was about sticking with a program that gave us a chance to do all this; to win a national championship banner... It's also about giving back and respecting what happened."
In staying together, the bond that the trio has created is something that will last them a lifetime.
"I think the biggest thing that I got out of [Giffey and Olander] is that, even though all three of us come from different parts of states and other countries, is that we have something together that no one else can tear apart, and that's just our brotherhood," Napier said. "It's just special to know that we came here together and we are all leaving together."
"We really love what this program is all about," Olander said. "We love this school and the people involved in the program. The bond that we've had is one that will carry me on for a lifetime... It's special to share this night with these guys and it will be something that I wouldn't want to do with any other group."
Apart from finishing their four-year careers with the Huskies as a group, the three will also graduate together, something UConn coach Kevin Ollie is proud of.
"All of them are going to graduate on time. It's tremendous, especially with the APR situation we went through," Ollie said. "It speaks value about them as student-athletes."
Napier, who passed up a chance to enter the NBA draft last year, understands the importance of finishing his education.
"At the end of the day I know I'm not going to be able to play basketball all my life," Napier said. "My mom always told me that Plan A was to get a degree and Plan B was play basketball. I stuck with that and it's just going to be a special moment when I walk across the stage, which is Gampel, and get my degree."
Napier, who has always been fond of playing at Gampel Pavilion, said the feeling of competing in this arena is something that he cannot sum up in one word.
"It's a tremendous feeling that you won't get unless you're actually playing for UConn," Napier said. "It's something super special. It's kind of like utopia. It's almost perfect."
Napier will get one last chance of experiencing that with the Huskies when they host Rutgers after the ceremony, and as for the game itself, it carries a few storylines as well.
After UConn's win over Cincinnati on Saturday, coupled with Louisville's loss to Memphis, the Huskies (23-6, 11-5 American Athletic Conference) still hold on a slim chance to earn a share of the inaugural AAC regular season championship.
Rutgers (11-18, 5-11 American), meanwhile, will most likely head for the Big Ten Conference next season without any AAC accolades.
The Scarlet Knights could, however, pick up one more victory in their 62-year rivalry with the Huskies before leaving the conference, though the Huskies have a 36-14 edge in the all-time series.
Since the two sides' last meeting on Jan. 25 in Piscataway, N.J. that resulted in an 82-71 UConn win, the Scarlet Knights have gone 3-6 in their last nine contests, including a 74-73 win over South Florida in their most recent outing.
The Senior Night ceremony is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. with tipoff set for 7 p.m. The game will be televised on ESPNU.
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