DB’s (Final) Weekly Take: Thank you UConn sports

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The University of Connecticut campus, in Storrs, Conn. Aug. 20, 2018.

Well, here we are. My penultimate column for The Daily Campus. I’m thinking of it as part one of my senior column because I would never be able to fit all my thoughts into one column unless it’s 2,500+ words, which I know nobody wants to read. This is not going to be my super emotional goodbye column with personal shoutouts, memories and reflections. That will be my actual senior column in a couple of weeks. 

No, this one is dedicated to how my love and appreciation for UConn sports has evolved over the last four years; and boy has it. 

UConn’s campus in Storrs is only about 95 miles away from my home in Saugus, Massachusetts. But it might as well be in another realm of the universe when it comes to sports. Nobody cares about college sports in Greater Boston. It is a pro sports city through and through, and why wouldn’t it be with 12 championships by all four of its teams in the last 20 years? Very few people grow up caring about any specific college team, and I was no different. There’s a niche of people who follow college hockey because of teams like Boston College, Boston University and Northeastern. But that’s about it. 

I never really watched any college sports until high school. That’s when I started to get into college football and basketball a little bit. Specifically for basketball, I got really into March Madness because of the bracket challenge. That began around 2015, but I still didn’t really know much about college sports by the time I was looking at schools to attend. 

The first time I stepped foot on UConn’s campus in October of 2016 for the open house, I’m pretty sure I knew only two things about UConn athletics: The women’s basketball team was really good, and Kemba Walker played here. That’s it.  

“But on that cool October day in 2016, the open house began in Gampel Pavilion. I was in awe when I walked in there and saw all the championship banners hanging and all the honored players on the walls.”

I’m serious. I don’t think I knew who Breanna Stewart or Shabazz Napier were. I had no clue Ray Allen went to UConn. I definitely didn’t know the football program went through a period of national relevance or that the baseball team was one of the best in the Northeast. I couldn’t tell you how many national championships the basketball programs had won. I didn’t even know that UConn’s biggest rival was Syracuse, or that the school had moved conferences a few years earlier. Nothing. 

I know some lifelong Connecticut residents reading this are ready to burn me at the stake. But listen, I was completely out of the realm of college sports for 90 percent of my life up until that point. I had followed pro sports very closely, particularly my Boston teams, but was only subliminally aware that UConn existed. 

But on that cool October day in 2016, the open house began in Gampel Pavilion. I was in awe when I walked in there and saw all the championship banners hanging and all the honored players on the walls. I immediately became interested in UConn’s history. If I recall correctly, when sitting with my dad waiting for the opening ceremony to start, I pulled out my phone to look up UConn’s basketball teams. Of course, Gampel’s crappy Wi-Fi didn’t make that easy, but I started to get the picture that UConn was a national power in basketball. 

I can’t say that the main reason I came to UConn was because of its sports teams, since I still didn’t know all that much at the time. But, it definitely played a factor because I knew I wanted to go to exciting sports games as a student. At the time, I was coming to UConn for chemical engineering, so I had no clue how big of a part sports would play on my UConn experience. 

“UConn sports are in my blood now. Whether or not I get to continue covering them for a career, I will always keep up with the teams.”

As a freshman, I went to some football and basketball games, but it wasn’t until after my freshman year when I decided to ditch engineering and focus on sports journalism (more on that in my actual senior column) when I really dove into UConn sports head first. 

Over the past three years, I have covered every sport at UConn in some form. I have learned so much about every team and about the school’s rich sports history in general. I’ve spent many hours watching old men’s and women’s basketball games, as well as old football games, while also reading through media guides and stats. It’s at the point now where I have enough knowledge to fool someone into thinking I’ve been a lifelong fan of UConn, and to be honest, it kind of feels like I have.  

It’s hard to imagine a time where I wasn’t aware of Tate George’s shot in 1990, the team that “shocked the world” with a national championship in 1999, the heartbreak against George Mason in 2006 or the six-overtime game against Syracuse in 2009. I can’t imagine not knowing the massive impact on the sport of women’s basketball that people like Rebecca Lobo, Sue Bird, Diana Taurasi, Maya Moore, Breanna Stewart and of course Geno Auriemma have had.  

Let’s not forget the smaller sports either. The field hockey program became a national power under Nancy Stevens. The baseball program has a huge presence in the MLB thanks to the tremendous coaching staff led by Jim Penders. The men’s and women’s hockey programs are going to continue to battle those top Boston schools for Hockey East championships for years to come, and it’ll happen eventually. I wish I could shoutout every single team, but you get the point. 

“I’ve gotten to meet some amazing athletes and coaches, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything.”

UConn sports are in my blood now. Whether or not I get to continue covering them for a career, I will always keep up with the teams. Football is going to turn a corner as an independent. Men’s basketball is back in the national spotlight. Women’s basketball will almost definitely break its Final Four curse next season.  

People who went to UConn in past decades will say this has been a brutal time to be a UConn student, but I don’t feel that way. No, I never got to witness a national championship, but I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to cover UConn for the past three years. I’ve gotten to meet some amazing athletes and coaches, and I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything. 

So, thank you UConn. You’ve made me into a Huskies fan for life. 

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