BEIJING Since Saturday afternoon's tragic stabbings of the in-laws of U.S. men's Olympic volleyball head coach Hugh McCutcheon, a common theme has been the effect on and the support from "family" the United States Olympic Committee family, the USA Volleyball family, and the U.S. men's volleyball team family.
For seven members of that U.S. men's volleyball program, the family connection goes even deeper and right through Brigham Young University.
McCutcheon is one of seven players, coaches and officials on the U.S. men's Olympic team who have strong ties to BYU.
And McCutcheon has found himself unwillingly drawn into the spotlight in absentia, no less. It's not for the nearly four years of preparation in getting his team ready for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, nor is it because he was to make his Games debut as the U.S. head coach.
Instead, it's the result of a lone knife-wielding assailant who stabbed Todd Bachman to death at Beijing's Drum Tower and inflicted life-threatening injuries to Barbara Bachman before leaping to his death from the second story of the structure.
The Bachmans are parents of McCutcheon's wife, Elisabeth, affectionately known as "Wiz" from her days as a UCLA standout volleyball player and former member of the U.S. women's national and Olympic teams.
Elisabeth Bachman was with her parents at the time of the incident but not injured in the attack.
Hugh McCutcheon was missing from the sidelines when the U.S. team opened preliminary play Sunday afternoon with a hard-fought five-set victory over Venezuela. But he wasn't far from the American players' minds.
"It's kind of an unthinkable tragedy, especially at a time like this when Hugh has put in so much time and effort getting us to this point," said U.S. libero Rich Lambourne, who along with former BYU teammate and current Olympic teammate Ryan Millar played for McCutcheon when he was BYU assistant coach from 1995 to 2001.
"Our hearts and our thoughts and our prayers go out to their family," continued Lambourne. "I was saying to Ryan, I have zero frame of reference as to how to deal emotionally with something of this level. We're just trying to do the best we can and to help Hugh out and his family out the best we can."
A former BYU player from 1991 to 1993, McCutcheon joined the coaching staff of Cougar head coach Carl McGown, who is assisting the U.S. team at the Beijing Games as a scout and adviser. Rob Browning, the U.S. team leader in Beijing, was another former Cougar player also on McGown's staff, serving as a volunteer assistant.
Together, Lambourne and Millar led on the court and McGown, McCutcheon and Browning guided on the sidelines when the Cougars won their first NCAA national championship. McGown and McCutcheon were around for BYU's second NCAA crown in 2001.
The BYU ties go even further with Team USA. Assistant coach Ron Larsen, who took over coaching duties in McCutcheon's absence Sunday, played on the Cougars' club volleyball team before it became NCAA-sanctioned and graduated from BYU. And fellow assistant Marv Dunphy, the longtime Pepperdine coach, earned his doctorate degree from BYU.
The hurting continued Sunday, no matter how close or distant the connection.
"It's a difficult situation for everybody," said Millar. "I can't even imagine how Hugh and Wiz are dealing with this. It's very devastating news that we got, and everybody just feels really terrible for him."
As a last-minute tribute to their coach and his in-laws, the U.S. players converged for a team huddle after pre-game introductions in a prolonged embrace and extended moment of silence and wrote the Bachmans' initials on the back of their shoes.
"Those are two 'stupid' things that we thought we could do in their memory," said Millar, letting them now that we were thinking of them, wishing them well."
And McCutcheon's absence Sunday was a lingering reminder to the players of the previous day's tragedy.
"It's obviously a noticeable thing that we don't have Hugh on the sideline, and that kind of triggers the thoughts of his in-laws and his family," said Lambourne. "To a certain extent, once the game starts, we try to focus on the task at hand, but there is a little bit of that hanging over it, sadly."
Said Browning: "Hugh has been in touch with the team throughout this tragedy, and we're extremely proud of the strength he and Elisabeth are displaying. They know we're here for them in every way possible."We're banding together as a team to lift up the Bachmans and McCutcheons," Browning added. "We are a family, and we'll get through this together as a family."