By Carl Adamec
STORRS, Conn. — Saniya Chong is never alone.
The University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s freshman guard has her new Huskies’ family here and, of course, her family in her native Ossining, N.Y. Even when she’s by herself, though, she never really is.
On the inside of her left wrist is a small tattoo that says “1985-2006” that’s in honor of her oldest brother Andrew, who suffered from an enlarged heart and took his own life at the age of 20. She got the tattoo during her sophomore year at Ossining High.
“I see it every day. So it’s always like a remembrance right there,” Chong said Monday as UConn held its media day at Gampel Pavilion. “He is always there cheering me on. Every time I know I have this tattoo for him, he’s always there everywhere I go and looking out for me.
“That was the very first thing I thought when I first got the tattoo. I was always dreaming of getting a tattoo, but that was my very first one and I knew I had to get it. I didn’t want something too big because it’s not really good to have it on the court. So I just wanted something really small, but always know that I can always see it.”
Her older brother was one of the people that introduced her to basketball.
“I had such a good relationship with him,” Chong said. “We would hang out every day. He would ask how my day was. I would go to the park and meet him and his friends. His friends had little sisters and we’d hang out. It was just nice.
“There’s never a time where I’m not (thinking about him). Sometimes I would see something or think about something and I’d be like, ‘Remember the time …’ Sometimes we’ll pass the park. Like awhile ago when I went back home for a weekend we passed the park and I was like, ‘Oh, that was the park we used to go to.’ So some things like that.”
She’ll try to continue to honor him with her play on the court here.
The 5-foot-9 guard averaged 34.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 9.1 assists, and 4.8 steals as a senior to lead Ossining High to its first New York Class AA state championship. She finished her career with 2,988 points. She played in the WBCA All-America Game and was named the senior athlete of the year in girls basketball by the National High School Coaches Association. She was also Parade Magazine’s Player of the Year.
She is the only freshman on the defending national champions’ nine-player roster.
“Basketball has been tremendous,” Chong said. “I’ve been learning a lot. It’s been challenging, but I’m ready and I’m up for it.”
Official practice starts in about two weeks and the first exhibition game is just a month away. The regular season opener is Nov. 9 against the University of Hartford.
“Saniya’s still only a freshman and has a lot to learn,” UConn All-American Bria Hartley said. “But I think she’s going to be a really good player for us. She’s quick. She’s good getting into the lane. She’ll add another dimension. We’re mostly a catch-and-shoot 3-point shooting team, but she’s one who can get into the lane and create.”
Chong see her role as doing mostly the same things she did at Ossining.
“It’s pushing the ball determined to get to the basket, to shoot that shot or to kick it out to my teammates, to get the next steal,” she said. “Here, it’s just two times harder.
“I’m here, and there is a reason why I’m here. I really want to contribute. I want to put as much as I can into this team and give it my all and then we will see what happens.”
What UConn fans might not see is her tattoo. The Huskies have a team rule about not having visible tattoos (Remember the band aid on Kennitra Johnson’s arm a little over a decade ago?) when in uniform. A wrist band will do the trick for Chong.
“I probably will (cover it up),” Chong said with a laugh.
But she knows she’ll never be alone.