STORRS – Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier began receiving text messages Friday morning and, at first, had no idea what people were talking about. When he turned on his television and saw coverage of the events unfolding at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, his thoughts immediately turned to his two-year-old niece in Boston.
"My niece comes to every single [UConn] game," Napier said Sunday after practice at Gampel Pavilion. "She's a bundle of joy. I just went to her birthday party a few months ago. She calls me Uncle Bazz. I love that girl to death. I had to give my sister a call and let her know I wanted to talk to my niece."
After a break for semester exams, the Huskies return to game action Monday night at 7 against Maryland Eastern Shore at the XL Center in Hartford. They practiced Sunday at Gampel Pavilion and admitted that it has been hard to focus on anything since Friday's senseless murder of 26 people, including 20 young children.
Newtown is about 80 miles from the UConn campus.
"Basketball is just a game," junior forward Tyler Olander said. "There's so much more in life. I have little cousins, family members, a nephew and just the thought that, at such a young age, they could be taken away at any moment is . . . it's greater than basketball. You have take time to think about all that's going on. But at the same we have to play a game and we're going to show our respects to the community."
UConn officials said there would be a moment of silence before Monday's game. UConn's two basketball teams and both hockey teams will be wearing memorial patches as well. Those patches were not ready as of Sunday, but the hope is the tributes will be available for wear Monday night.
Coach Kevin Ollie spoke to his players Saturday. He said he would like to take the team to Newtown in the future, possibly to hold a practice, as a show of support. Ollie said he would prefer that to just "sitting and doing nothing."
"This hits home," he said. "That could have been any of our kids that got on that bus that day. I walk my daughter to the bus every day. Twenty families didn't get their son or daughter back. It's just tough. I stressed to [the players] to go home and love your family, because you never know if it's going to be your day."
Napier, 21, said he was touched watching Newtown father Robbie Parker talk about his daughter Emilie, 6, who was one of the murder victims.
"It just hurt," Napier said. "He accepted it in a way of remorse. He's not mad at the [gunman's] family. He wants everybody to understand that. But they were all individuals. They all had their own personality. He just wanted people to know who his daughter was.
"I can't [imagine] those emotions that the family members had when they lost their child. It seems like their world is lost now. It struck me to the core. Those are children who are 6 and 7 years old, who can't live their life. Twenty kids, that's 20 futures. One of those kids could have found the cure for cancer or something like that."
Olander said the incident hit home because the children were so young. And then there is the fact that his mother, Tracy, teaches sixth grade in Tolland. His father, Skip, was a coach and athletic director at Tolland High School for 35 years.
"I thought immediately, what if this had happened at my mother's school," Olander said. "It's just tragic. My thoughts and prayers are with the families in that community right now. That's just really unbelievable somebody would do that to 20 innocent children, who don't understand what is going on, and the other children in school are going to be traumatized from this event. It's going to be hard for them to ever be the same."