College Basketball
Huskies title serves as reminder that at UConn, basketball comes first
College Basketball

Huskies title serves as reminder that at UConn, basketball comes first

Updated Apr. 4, 2023 6:16 p.m. ET

When driving through Mansfield, Connecticut, to reach Storrs, the winding roads through the woods get you pondering the question at a certain point: Am I going the right way? The road to UConn’s campus is a quiet one, especially if it’s nighttime, when you could hear a pin drop outside. 

Eventually, you hit the campus, where the signs tell the story: one reads "Basketball Capital of the World," while another lists all the national championships won at the school. 

For visiting teams, it must draw an eye roll from some, if not a signal of the daunting task ahead for those entering Gampel Pavilion. But for an outsider like myself, the question you’re desiring an answer to is simple: How? How is the college basketball capital of the world located here? 

The proof is in the pudding. What Geno Auriemma and the 11-time national champion women’s program stand for is one of the all-time dynasties in college sports history. What Jim Calhoun built with the men’s program puts himself in a class of program-builders in college hoops history that features an exclusive group of individuals. 


How does all of that success happen in the village of Storrs? 

"Just being isolated in Storrs, most people who choose not to go to UConn, that’s the one thing they say they don’t want to go for because there’s nothing to do," Hall of Famer Ray Allen said in UConn’s locker room Monday night. "I said to them, ‘Well, you’re wrong because there’s everything to do that you’re here for. We’re here to not be distracted. We’re here to learn a way of life, so we can get better at basketball.' That’s why I signed up to go there. I didn’t want distractions. I didn’t need to be on a college campus where I’m going to the beach, or I’m hanging out at a club. No, I did what UConn provided. That allowed me to stay on path for what my vision and what my focus was." 

The UConn legend summed up what the 2022-23 team showed the world throughout this NCAA Tournament: At UConn, basketball is king, and winning championships is the standard.

Dan Hurley cemented his place in history Monday night, powering Connecticut to its first national title since 2014 and the fifth since 1999 with a 76-59 victory over San Diego State. Those trophies — five in a 24-year span — signify the following: UConn has owned the last quarter-century in college basketball, the Huskies are a blue blood, and all of the promotional lines and talk done by this powerhouse program has been validated.

No other program in college hoops has more than three crowns (North Carolina, Duke) since 1999. Need further proof of where UConn stands in college basketball’s top class? Here’s the list of schools with five or more national championships: Connecticut, UCLA, North Carolina, Duke, Kentucky and Indiana.

UConn claims fifth title in 24 years

Colin Cowherd explains why UConn should be considered a Blue Blood along with Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, UCLA and more.

Within this tournament run, Connecticut didn’t just win. The Huskies flexed just how strong they were to the country, winning six NCAA Tournament games by a combined 120 points. That’s the fourth-largest margin of victory by a national champion in tournament history. They also completed a 17-0 record against out-of-conference opponents, beating every one of them by double-figures and winning those games by a combined 417 points. 

Hurley and his staff assembled the perfect roster, with Jordan Hawkins playing like a top-20 NBA Draft pick on the perimeter, Adama Sanogo performing as well as any big man in America, Andre Jackson evolving his game and leading, plus Tristen Newton transferring into the program and silencing the point guard doubters. 

But beyond their performance on the court, this team and its coach carry themselves with a swagger and aggressiveness that sticks out. Hurley does not hold back, and neither does his players. 

"He doesn’t bulls--- you. He’s not like that," Sanogo, who was named the Final Four Most Outstanding Player after averaging 19.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game in the NCAA Tournament, said. "He’s going to push you to be your best. That’s what he [Hurley] does, and he’s one special coach." 

The vibe of "tell it like it is" fits UConn well, because you can’t be at a place with that much tradition and memorable faces and not be authentic. That is why Hurley and Connecticut are the perfect match, because the Huskies coach does not hold back in his opinions and quotes. He wants to win as badly as anyone, and at a place like UConn, you can have a realistic shot of cutting down the nets every single year. 

"We’re kind of a-holes in a way, but nice a-holes," Hawkins said with a smile when describing his favorite thing about this UConn team. "We are all killers of the game of basketball, and I love these guys to death. I couldn’t think about going about it any other way." 

Neither can Hawkins’ head coach, who took the UConn job in 2018 following a 14-18 season by the Huskies and a 26-win campaign for him at Rhode Island, which featured a second consecutive trip to the Round of 32. Facing pressure to immediately turn the program around and being constantly reminded of past success, Hurley had to rethink how he was going to get UConn back to glory.

Hurley would show off the program's four national championship trophies to recruits when he first started, but then he had a realization.

"We had nothing to do with those titles," Hurley said. "We removed the trophies about 18 months ago when we started feeling like we had put something together that could make a run at getting a fifth. So, we removed those and got them out of our offices and said, ‘We don’t want any trophies in here until we’ve got our own.’"

On the road to getting their own, there was one factor that consistently stood out: UConn’s composure on college basketball's biggest stage. The Huskies were unflappable in the way they dominated the tournament, and the way Hurley coached his team, letting the tough whistle go or making a key rotation was a sign of his overall growth on the sidelines. Hurley has had his fair share of run-ins with officials, but the Huskies coach didn’t get involved with any of that in this tournament. He and his team did the talking. 

"I’ve probably done it to myself by being such an intense, fiery coach, that people have always focused more on the sideline antics than my total body of work over the course of my career," Hurley, who has spent 13 years on the college sidelines after nine as the head coach at St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey, said. "There are not many coaches that were as successful as my teams were at St. Benedict’s, Wagner and Rhode Island. Not many coaches in the country have won 25 games or more in three different programs and now have a national championship." 

It’s that swagger and flare that aligns with Northeast basketball, an attitude that fits perfectly in the Big East Conference, where the Huskies returned in 2020 after spending the previous seven years as a member of the American Athletic Conference. Since returning to the league the program was a charter member of back in 1979, UConn has gone 69-26. But it hasn’t come without some adversity. Just look at this year: All eight losses — it’s wild this team lost eight games — came within the Big East, which included getting swept by Xavier and dropping two games to Marquette. Those losses got this team to refocus and figure out the warts that were exposed. 

In addition to UConn's national title, the rest of the Big East enjoyed its best collective month in a decade with three teams in the Sweet 16 for the first time since reconfiguration in 2013, a 12-4 NCAA Tournament record, the return of Rick Pitino as he took the St. John’s job, Ed Cooley’s dramatic Providence-to-Georgetown move, and the Friars getting a large personality in Kim English. 

"We were the best conference in the country this year," Hurley said. "Year in, year out we are. I felt like our top five in particular was clearly the best. And it showed in the NCAA Tournament. We were the most successful league in the tournament, and we have the national championship. So we were the best league in the country this year, and that’s not going to change. With the type of coaches that now have moved around, I don’t think we’re going anywhere. I know we’re not." 

Yes, UConn has a home — a basketball home, and that just feels right. Monday night's national title victory was the reward for a psychological choice. The school made the decision to alter its path of selling its soul for football, place that sport as an independent, which produced a bowl berth this past year under Jim Mora, and get into a league in the Big East where the basketball capital of the world, simply put, belongs. 

Hurley’s personality, the top-end talent, the buzz that this program receives, and the winning tradition fits naturally in the Big East, and with the ultimate validation coming Monday night, it means those Storrs roadway signs need some updating, and a new banner must be hung. And the scariest part about it for the rest of the country? UConn was already bringing in the fourth-best recruiting class in the country this year, per 247

"This was our vision. This was our dream," Hurley said. "This is what we talked about when we recruited these guys, that we could get together and do something big like this. It’s a dream come true." 

For the 50-year-old Hurley and his Huskies, it might only be the beginning. And to think it all starts with a drive through the woods to Storrs, one that nobody on the opposite side will be looking forward to in the years to come. 

Connecticut is back where it belongs, and Monday night in Houston was the coronation.

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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