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UConn Men’s Basketball: Dan Hurley Searching for Leadership

The new head coach wants his two top guards to step up off the court.

UConn's Christian Vital (1) and Jalen Adams (4) during the Monmouth Hawks vs UConn Huskies men's college basketball game at the XL Center in Hartford, CT on December 2, 2017.
UConn’s Christian Vital (1) and Jalen Adams (4) during the Monmouth Hawks vs UConn Huskies men’s college basketball game at the XL Center in Hartford, CT on December 2, 2017.
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

With the introduction of Dan Hurley and all eyes on his upcoming recruiting class, it’s easy to forget that we still have a season in front of us. Before the Huskies can begin eyeing future glory, they’ll need to put a good product on the court this year.

UConn basketball has a rich history of success, but the last few seasons have been underwhelming. As it stands, Jalen Adams is the only player on the team with any NCAA tournament experience, and that’s a rarity in Storrs.

In fact, last year was the Huskies’ first back-to-back stretch of missing the tournament since the ’80s and they hadn’t had back-to-back losing seasons since Jim Calhoun first took over as head coach.

Needless to say, Dan Hurley has a long way to go with this rebuild, but he’s rising to the challenge. The first step is to pinpoint a leader and the first name that comes to mind is senior Jalen Adams.

“He’s got a great way about him,” Hurley said. “People are just drawn to Jalen because of his personality. He’s a cool guy and a guy that a lot of people like.”

While natural likability is a great start, a leader needs to be able to lay down the law when necessary. According to Hurley, that part of Jalen’s personality still needs some work.

“Now what he’s got to add to that coolness that everyone likes is that sometimes he’s got to be willing to have his teammates not like him because he’s got to spit some truth at them,” Hurley said. “He’s got to understand that he’s not running for UConn class president.”

If not Adams, perhaps junior guard Christian Vital could emerge as the emotional leader for this team. He’s certainly got the energy for it.

“He can (be a leader),” said Hurley of Vital. “This is sports. When you show up, people have got to feel you. You have to have a certain personality for this and he has the personality for it. The confidence, the swagger, you need that in sports and he shows up with it.”

Rather, the challenge could come from properly channeling that energy.

“In order for you to lead others you have to channel it properly. People have to want to go with you. It’s got to be about the group,” Hurley continued. “If he could do a better job of giving his attention to others and building others up around him, he could be a heck of a leader for us.”

In the meantime, Coach Hurley will be providing that leadership himself; a role he plans on playing until the right guy is ready to take over.

“I think right now, a lot of that (leadership) is coming from me. I think that’s kind of the theme of the first year of this process. More similar to my first years at Wagner, at Rhode Island where I was a little more animated in games, a little more animated in practice than I was once the program was built it in terms of culture.”

He reiterated, “It’s got to come from me. I’ve got to set the pace.”

As far as ‘setting the pace’ for his team, Dan Hurley is off to a great start. He hit a half-court shot at the end of practice, joking “I’ll do that occasionally just to remind them that I scored 1000 points in the real Big East.”

UConn appears to be in good hands.