Lit­tle sis­ter, big in­spi­ra­tion

Bent finds mo­ti­va­tion by watch­ing sis­ter with Down syn­drome

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Sports - By Doug Bon­jour dbon­[email protected]­post.com; @DougBon­jour

STORRS — The bun. It’s all about the bun.

On the bas­ket­ball court, it’s Sarah Bent’s pre­ferred hair­style. She wears it that way be­cause her fa­vorite player, Katie Lou Sa­muel­son, wears it that way.

“She knows her UConn bas­ket­ball,” her sis­ter, Molly, a ju­nior with the Huskies, said. “She went through a stage last year where she wore the Katie Lou bun in her games. I was like, ‘What about the Molly pony­tail?’ I guess I’m not her fa­vorite player. She’s never ac­tu­ally told me (who is), but I guess the bun says it all. If you’re wear­ing the bun, it’s got to be Lou.”

Added Kathy, her mother: “We call it the Loudo.”

Kathy pulls up a video on her phone as a re­minder. It shows Sarah drib­bling around de­fend­ers, driv­ing into the paint and fin­ish­ing strong at the bas­ket dur­ing a game, just like Sa­muel­son. It’s a fam­ily keep­sake.

“Her man­ner­isms that day were so dif­fer­ent,” Kathy re­called Tues­day, laugh­ing. “She was even shak­ing her legs and her arms to loosen up, like Katie Lou does. We were laugh­ing be­cause it was so un­like her.”

Sarah, 13, has Down syn­drome, a ge­netic dis­or­der that slows her read­ing, writ­ing and math skills, but not her spirit. Her per­son­al­ity is con­ta­gious, as is her en­thu­si­asm. She has a youth­ful ex­u­ber­ance that Molly says is im­pos­si­ble to ig­nore.

“She has a great sense of hu­mor, too, so she’ll give you a hard time,” Molly said. “(UConn as­sis­tant coach) Shea (Ralph) loves how she plays hard to get some­times. … She’s a great per­son to have around.”

Like her three older sib­lings — Ge­orge, 24; Molly, 21; John, 18 — Sarah is ul­tra-com­pet­i­tive. She shares a love for bas­ket­ball with Molly, a 5-foot-9 backup guard for the No. 1 team in the coun­try. Sarah mo­ti­vates her sib­lings, and mo­ti­vate her. Games at the fam­ily’s home in Cen­ter­ville, Mass., are of­ten in­tense.

“They don’t give her the ball. They de­fend her, and they steal it from her,” Kathy said. “They make her work for ev­ery­thing she gets. They don’t just hand it off to her. If she’s dog­ging it, if she’s not try­ing hard, they get on her. They rough­house with her. In fact, she’s not afraid. When she’s play­ing de­fense, she’ll re­ally go af­ter the ball.

treated very much like they’re equals. The drive­way games are cut­throat in our house.”

Added Molly: “We joke around a lot. She gives us a hard time and things like that. We just love her to death.”

‘EV­ERY­THING’S GO­ING TO BE FINE’

Molly, a three-time New Eng­land Prep School All-Star bethey tween stints at Barn­sta­ble High School and Ta­bor Academy, had con­sid­ered at­tend­ing Ivy League schools Brown and Prince­ton. Ul­ti­mately, though, she — un­ranked in the Class of 2016 by most re­cruit­ing ser­vices — chose UConn.

Molly’s role with the 11-time na­tional cham­pi­ons has re­mained lim­ited. She’s av­er­ag­ing 1.3 points over 8.6 min­utes per game — a tick above her av­er­age (8.4 min“She’s utes) from the past two sea­sons. Cer­tainly, she’d love to be play­ing more, but be­cause of Sarah, Molly doesn’t fret.

“She’s a con­stant re­minder of ev­ery­thing is go­ing to be OK,” Molly said Mon­day fol­low­ing prac­tice. “Hon­estly, God has a plan for ev­ery­one. He had a plan for our fam­ily, and she was it. She was a sur­prise, and she’s been the best thing that’s ever hap­pened to us. We all — all five mem­bers of our fam­ily — agree that our lives would never be the same if she weren’t in it.

“When­ever I have a tough day here or a tough game or school’s go­ing tough, I can call her and no mat­ter what, she’ll al­ways make me smile and make me laugh. I know ev­ery­thing’s go­ing to be fine.”

Rather than talk over the phone, Molly prefers to com­mu­ni­cate through Face­Time so that she can see Sarah’s face. Their con­ver­sa­tions brighten Molly’s day.

“Sarah’s so much fun,” se­nior for­ward Napheesa Col­lier said. “You can re­ally see the love that they have for each other. Some­times, we’ll talk to Sarah on Face­Time and she’ll send gifs and things like that. It’s re­ally cool. We al­ways love when Sarah’s around.”

Sarah is “very high-func­tion­ing,” Kathy said, to the point where they barely no­tice her dif­fer­ences. Now in eighth grade at Barn­sta­ble High, Sarah takes a few classes with the rest of the school, in­clud­ing science and his­tory. She also plays on the ju­nior-var­sity bas­ket­ball team.

“My mom does an in­cred­i­ble job of fight­ing for her and what she needs in the school,” Molly said. “Sarah works so hard in the sum­mer, too, to try to catch up. I think she has three or four tu­tors ev­ery week. It’s in­cred­i­ble, she works harder than I do in a lot of as­pects.”

Molly can’t help but smile at her sis­ter’s de­ter­mi­na­tion.

“Ev­ery­thing Molly does she shares with Sarah, re­ally,” Kathy said. “I don’t even re­ally know how to de­scribe it. She kind of treats her as an equal. She makes Sarah rise. She brings out the best in her, and Sarah brings a lot of good out of Molly. It’s a very unique re­la­tion­ship.”

Tim Clay­ton / Cor­bis via Getty Images

UConn guard Molly Bent brings the ball up the court against Mary­land in Hart­ford in 2017.

Kathy Bent / Con­trib­uted Photo

UConn ju­nior guard Molly Bent, right, sits along­side her sis­ter, Sarah.

Kathy Bent / Con­trib­uted Photo

Sarah Bent, the younger sis­ter of UConn’s Molly Bent, poses with the Huskies’ mas­cot.

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