STORRS – Shabazz Napier, Tyler Olander and Niels Giffey, the UConn seniors who stuck it out and helped hold the program together through tumultuous times, all gave lengthy interviews on Tuesday.
Want to let them tell their own stories. Here is about 10 solid minutes of Shabazz, as only he could tell it:
“The biggest thing, the reason I stayed, I felt like that sophomore year I didn’t play as well as I could and I told coach [Jim] Calhoun that I was going to stay and I was going to help him show them what we got if it was the last ride for him. Because there was a lotof rumors saying it was going to be his [last year].
… I was going to comeback and prove, not only to myself by to everyone else that that sophomore year wasn’t as good as I am. Prove something to them.
On senior night
“I don’t really think too far ahead of myself. I think about what’ s going on right now. It’s definitely something to feel special about, to feel happy about. Being here four years, it seems time is moving too fast. You’re a senior now, last time you’re going to play before these fans at Gampel for the last time.
[Playing here] is a tremendous feeling you won’t get unless you play here, play for UConn. It’s super special, almost like it’s utopia. Almost perfect
[Ups and downs of the last four years] That’ show life is, you go through a lot of obstacles in life to get to where you want to be. To be successful, everyone thinks the path is going to be straight ahead. There’s a lot of rivers, a lot of mountains you gave to pass. Part of being a human. Things are going to happen, you have to deal with it and move on.”
“The degree is super important. I know I’m not going to be able to play basketball all my life. That’s one thing my mother always tells me, you’re probably only gong t play basketball til you’re 40 and that’s it. You’ve got to have something to fall back on. My mother always told me Plan A was to get my degree, Plan B was to play basketball. I stuck with that and it’s going to be a special moment when I walk across the stage at Gampel and get my degree
I learned a lot [in four years]. The more you age the more you know. I come out much more mature. I understand a lot of things I didn’t as a freshman. A ton of things I learned, I can’t sum it all up
… Growing up. I was always the last guy picked. I wasn’t the second or first guy until one summer when I started to play good. I know what it felt like to be on that wrong side of the fence where nobody wants you, and to be on the other side where everybody wants to be on your side. So my confidence has always up high because when I was on that one side where nobody wanted me, I felt I was better than everybody else. It had nothing to do with being cocky. I understood how well I can play and how much potential I had. I felt like I was going to be as good as I wanted to be. It comes from my mother. She always wants us to be as good as we wanted to be. I’m thankful for that.
If you’ve got a chance to be a hero, why not? A lot of guys are afraid of missing a shot. You never know if you’re going to make it unless you take it. Sometime you’re going to miss, you’re not going to make every shot, you’ve got to be willing to take it. Guys on this team understand I’m willing to take the shot, if it’s in my hands or not. I’m fortunate to be in those positions and have my guys get me the ball to take those shots.
“[Giffey, Olander and I,] we talk about it a lot. What would the program be like if we didn’t stay, if we weren’t all together? But we wouldn’t know, no one would know that. We’re just happy we stayed with the program, happy we’re still trying to be the best we can possibly be. We’re seniors now, it’s our time to kind of pass the baton to these younger guys and let them flourish.”
“…[Coming to UConn] was a big decision that I never would never regret. [Calhoun’s]s presence. I first saw him at nationals, I was sophomore. Me and my teammates saw him and Coach Calhoun was something big. I was in the layup line and I shot a three and air-balled it. I said, ‘there’s goes my chances.’ His presence is just enormous. When I sat down and talked to him, of course we clicked. We’re from Boston. A lot of guys don’t understand him but I understood every word he said. It was tough, but I understood.”
I felt like we clicked and every since then he’s been like a father figure to me and I know tomorrow he’s definitely going to be happy”
“I think I grew the most my sophomore year when nothing went the right way. A lot of times you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror and figure out what you could have done better. It was a lot of problems I had to deal with myself and I felt I was one of the biggest reasons we didn’t play as well as we should have. But that’s how I am. I always blame everything on me, whether we lose by one point or by 20 points. My sophomore year was my most trying time. I learned a lot, I experienced a lot my freshman year but my sophomore year is something I’m thankful for. It sounds ironic but I’m thankful because it helped me look at myself in the mirror and make the right decisions.”
“Even though all three of us come from different … states, different countries, we have something together that no one else can take apart, a brotherhood. We lived together, we hang out a lot. It’s special to know we came in together and we’re all leaving together. Somet
hing you can take the rest of your life. We came in with seven* and we’re leaving with three and we’re happy about our decision of staying, Tyler and Niels are always going to be my brothers. That’s something you cherish at the end of the day.”
*Footnote: The “seven” to which Napier refers includes incoming freshman Jeremy Lamb, Michael Bradley, Enosch Wolf and Roscoe Smith.
We’ll post Tyler Olander’s and Niels Giffey’s thoughts in a little bit.