UConn unofficially opens basketball season with First Night
STORRS, Conn. (AP) — New coach Dan Hurley introduced himself to UConn’s fans on Friday as the Huskies unofficially opened their basketball season with the annual “First Night” celebration inside Gampel Pavilion.
UConn’s version of “Midnight Madness” is now held at 7 p.m. and no longer marks the start of practice (for the men that started two weeks ago).
But it was a chance for the school’s fan base to get a first look at the 2018-19 men’s and women’s players and Hurley.
The 45-year-old takes over a program that won the last of its four national championships in 2014, but went 14-18 last season, leading to the firing of Kevin Ollie.
Hurley implored the 5,000 or so fans who showed up to support his team as they “make that climb all the way back up.”
He was introduced by Hall-of-Fame women’s coach Geno Auriemma, who is starting his 34th season at the school hoping to guide his Huskies to a 12th consecutive Final Four and a 12th national championship.
“College basketball is pretty important up here,” Auriemma said. “The kids know it. The fans know it. Each year, they can’t wait for it.”
The women have had just three practices so far, but Hurley made sure he and his staff were on hand to watch one of them.
“Just to see the professionalism, the understanding of how they want to play, the maturity,” he told reporters. “The championship culture just oozes out of you as you are watching.”
Fans began lining up at 10 a.m. for “First Night” and the requisite loud music, light show and games and giveaways.
Senior Kwintin Williams was named the winner of the dunk contest after freshman and fan favorite Olivia Nelson-Ododa missed on her three attempts.
All-American Katie Lou Samuelson took the 3-point title and fans cheered throughout the 3-on-3 games and the mixed-squad scrimmage, jumping to their feet when Jalen Adams threw an alley-oop bounce pass to forward Isiah Whaley.
“All you want to do when you get to college is get out here and play in front of great crowds,” Adams said. “We’re working for it. This is where it starts. You can’t help but be optimistic.