STORRS – Niels Giffey came from halfway around the world, from Berlin, Germany, to UConn, where he has become one of the most respected teammates and popular of Huskies.
He will graduate with a degree in economic geography, and most likely have a long career in Europe. But he now calls Storrs his “second home.”
Niels shares his thoughts as Senior Night approaches:
“The first couple of practices, with Coach [Jim] Calhoun and Coach [George] Blaney, you felt it was special. As a freshman you had to live up to it.
“We’ve talked a lot about it, especially after that disappointing loss [to Iowa State] in the NCAA tournament. I just remember the whole atmosphere really being down, and it was the guys that stayed here that really became close. We realized that none of us were selfish, none of us put ourselves in front of the group.
It was kind of the same situation last year, Shabazz [Napier] coming back for his senior year – you just realize that it’s about more than basketball. It’s about your education, about the experiences you get here and just growing up as a man. All of us had so many great experiences here. We’ve made mistakes and have done dumb things. The whole program stays behind us.
It’s a amazing for all of us that [Shabazz] stayed, it was the right decision for himself. He’s matured so much …
Looking back on it, it’s kind of funny. Me and Tyler [Olander] were roommates from the start. Looking at Shabazz, becoming this great leader that he is today form the freshman I remember. He has been through so much and developed such strong character. He came back for his degree, something you have to respect as a friend and as a man.
[As a freshman,] he had this little rat tail. I had just moved in. I was late because of all international stuff I had to do. Shabazz popped in, said hello, introduced himself and from there we went. At that point, we really didn’t realize what great leaders we had on the team, in Kemba, Charles [Okwandu], Donnell [Beverly].
[Senior night] is just a sign that we wanted to be here, we wanted to be at UConn, and nowhere else. It was not always about us, about our situation. Sticking with the program that gave us a chance to do all that, to win a national championship. About giving back.”