Hurley brings renewed sense of optimism to UConn
STORRS, Conn. (AP) — New coach Dan Hurley has brought a renewed sense of energy and optimism with him to UConn, but it’s not clear how that will translate this season on the court.
He replaces Kevin Ollie, fired after a 14-18 season, and takes over a program awaiting sanctions for NCAA violations.
Hurley can’t control that but he is hoping to help the Huskies’ work ethic.
“They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do, obviously adapting to a completely new style,” Hurley said. “It’s probably more just like the learning curve than it is anything about how they are going about it, because these guys are going hard right now.”
Hurley could have one of the best backcourts in the nation. He convinced top players Jalen Adams and Christian Vital to stay at the school and is hoping often-injured Alterique Gilbert can remain healthy and live up to the potential that made him a top recruit in 2016. Shoulder injuries have limited Gilbert to just nine games for the Huskies.
Here are some other things to watch for as UConn begins the 2018-19 season on Nov. 8 against Morehead State:
Hurley has brought in three new players since taking the reins in March.
He had recruited guard Brendan Adams while at Rhode Island, and Adams chose to follow the coach to Connecticut.
Another guard, Tarin Smith, comes in as a graduate transfer after playing at Nebraska and Duquesne. Smith played high school ball in New Jersey for Hurley’s father, Hall of Famer Bob Hurley Sr., and was last season’s sixth man of the year in the Atlantic 10.
Kassoum Yakwe, a 6-foot-7 graduate transfer from St. John’s, is expected to add needed strength, shot blocking and depth to the frontcourt, especially with 6-8 sophomore Mamadou Diarra, who is still recovering from knee surgery in July.
UConn has worked a lot in the preseason on playing an attacking man-to-man defense.
Personnel issues had forced Ollie to play more zone in recent seasons.
But with five quality guards, Hurley has the depth to switch back to playing with the pressure that had become a UConn staple under Jim Calhoun.
“It’s hard to play aggressive pressure when you’ve been decimated by injuries,” Hurley said “So it’s just about changing that mindset, now that we have, knock on wood, a few more perimeter players that can initiate pressure.”
SID THE KID
UConn fans will finally get a look at Sidney Wilson.
The 6-foot-7 wing, who enrolled in summer school at St. John’s in 2017 before changing his mind, was denied an NCAA waiver that would have allowed him to play at UConn last season.
“I feel like it’s my time,” Wilson said. “I waited. Now all the waiting, all the pent-up emotions, I’m just going to pour it all on the court.”
Wilson was recruited for his versatility. He can handle the ball, leap, drive to the basket and hit a jump shot.
“That’s a talented guy that can bring a lot to this program, potentially,” Hurley said.
Playing in the American Athletic Conference, UConn has been forced to create a top out-of-conference schedule to boost its NCAA Tournament resume.
The Huskies will play Syracuse and either Oregon or Iowa in the 2K Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden in November. They also face Arizona, Florida State and Villanova before January.
LEARNING FROM THE BEST
Hurley, the son of a Hall of Famer coach, recently spent a day off on the other side of the school’s basketball training complex, watching women’s coach Geno Auriemma at work.
“That was my first chance to watch his team and just to see its professionalism, the understanding of how they want to play, the maturity,” he said. “The championship culture just oozes out of you as you’re watching.”
Hurley said he also recently visited Boston to see how Brad Stevens does things with the Celtics.
“That’s what good coaches do,” Auriemma said. “They pick up stuff from other coaches.”