UConn has hoops, Newtown on its mind

By Carl Adamec

STORRS, Conn. — Kelly Faris felt helpless.

The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s senior guard spent part of last Friday watching the news reports out of Newtown where a gunman killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Finally, she had to turn the television off.

“It’s hard to put into words,” Faris said Tuesday. “I can’t imagine, I don’t think anyone can imagine what those parents, their families, their friends, are going through. It’s heartbreaking. It really is.

“It’s sickening. That something like that can happen … There’s not much you can do right now. If there was anything I could do I would want to do it so bad. You want to help but it’s hard to know what to do. Right now the best we can do is keep them in our thoughts and prayers.

“It ruined my day. It ruined my week. It was all I could think about. All I could picture in my head was all those kids’ faces. That’s what I have a passion for, little kids, and that’s who I want to work with. To hear something like that was devastating.”

Faris and her coaches and teammates will take part in a ceremony to honor the victims Wednesday night prior to the start of the second-ranked Huskies’ game with Oakland (Mich.) at the XL Center in Hartford (7 p.m., SNY).

The players will wear patches on their game jerseys. The patch is a rectangle with a green background, a black outline and the letters “SH” in white. The school colors of Sandy Hook Elementary School are green and white. UConn bench personnel and others associated with the game will also be wearing special green and white ribbons.

“It’s an honor to wear something that represents those kids and those teachers,” Faris said.

UConn announced Monday night that the school had established the Sandy Hook School Memorial Scholarship Fund. The fund will provide financial aid for any 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 UConn in the future.

UConn coach Geno Auriemma and his wife Kathy made a lead gift of $80,000 to the fund.

“There really isn’t much you can do that aren’t just symbolic gestures. At this point, you’re pretty much left with those,” Auriemma said. “That’s all you can do. That’s one of the reasons why we wanted to start the scholarship fund. That’s not a symbolic thing. That’s a tangible thing that people can actually fall back on and actually use long term. In the short term all you can do to show some respect for those people that were killed.

“There were a lot of things bandied around by people. How do you go about doing something? Everyone says, ‘You have to do something. Let’s have a practice there, let’s play a game to raise money.’ Those are all well and good and there were a lot of good intentions that came out of it. But when we talked about it, we wanted something more long-lasting that really keeps those 26 people in a memorial that will last, hopefully, forever.”

Auriemma, 58, recalled the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers when he was growing up and then other tragedies from his 27 years at UConn. Then there was Friday.

“That cut the deepest of anything that I’ve experienced in my life,” he said.

“Hopefully we’ll raise enough money and down the road something different will happen than what normally happens — that the person who did the shooting won’t be as famous as the people that were killed,” Auriemma added. “By their dying, they’ll give birth to some kid’s dream of going to college that normally couldn’t go to college. Maybe some kids will grow up in Newtown and it will be a tremendous honor for them to get a scholarship in a (Sandy Hook victim’s) name.”

The Huskies practiced last Friday and Auriemma later apologized to his players for taking out his emotions on them.

“We probably would have been better off not even having practice that day,” Auriemma said. “We got through it, but I wasn’t exactly proud of myself the way I handled it.”

Wednesday night’s game will be the first for UConn (8-0) since it beat Penn State on Dec. 6. It has been off for fall semester final exams.

The Huskies’ starting lineup is intact but they will be short-handed on the bench as sophomore Kiah Stokes (right shin) and freshman Morgan Tuck (right knee) will miss the game with injuries. Tuck hopes to be back in time for UConn’s game with No. 1 Stanford on Dec. 29 while Stokes may be out until after New Year’s.

Oakland (5-5) is coming off a 77-46 loss to Purdue on Sunday. The Huskies beat the Boilermakers 91-57 last month.

The Grizzlies were without leading scorer Olivia Nash and Summit League preseason Player of the Year Bethany Watterworth with leg injuries against Purdue. Watterworth has not played this season. It’s likely they’ll both miss Wednesday night’s game.

For the Huskies, it’s a chance to get their minds on basketball while not forgetting the people in Newtown.

“It’s hard to see something like that happen. It’s a tragedy,” UConn All-American Bria Hartley said. “All you can do is pray for those people and pray that something like that never happens again.”

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