On Monday, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski interviewed UConn men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley at the Boy’s and Girl’s Club in Bristol, where Hurley reflected on the Huskies’ start to the season. Hurley noted that the team is not where it needs to be from a talent standpoint as a preface to explaining why this year’s Huskies team needs to develop positive habits.
“When you don’t have everything you need from a talent standpoint, you’ve got to try to stay in games by caring more than your opponent, playing harder, being scrappier. That’s the first step in building a successful organization. Showing up with urgency, playing with passion, that’s the first thing you’ve got to learn before you actually get good. That doesn’t happen by itself; you’ve got to coach it every day, every play of every game - because that’s what the first year is like.”
This is the ultimate quote from a first year coach talking about where the program was left before they took over. It checks all the boxes: mention how the team wasn’t left in good shape, discuss the immediate plan to win games and talk about a long-term outlook of culture change.
UConn fans can — and should — feel good about what Dan Hurley brings to the sidelines and the way he talks about the program. It begs questioning, however: is there a dearth of talent on the current men’s basketball roster, to what extent is there or is there not and how might this change in the future?
Former coach Kevin Ollie left the UConn starting backcourt in great shape with a strong duo of Jalen Adams and Alterique Gilbert leading the way. Christian Vital is a solid starter and Sidney Wilson recently joined the lineup. Though still working into the rotation, Wilson’s potential is sky-high and he has already been tabbed as UConn’s best pro prospect by coach Dan Hurley.
However, the Huskies lacked reliable depth options — especially for a team that relies heavily on its guards. Hurley brought in graduate transfer Tarin Smith and freshman Brendan Adams — a former Rhode Island commit that jumped ship with his coach.
Ollie left the frontcourt manned by Tyler Polley, Josh Carlton, Eric Cobb and Isaiah Whaley. This is a serviceable, albeit not flashy, group of forwards. Dan Hurley brought in Kassoum Yakwe as a grad transfer from St. John’s to provide more depth.
UConn’s roster is still mostly constructed by Kevin Ollie aside from a few depth additions. No matter the standard this team is being held to, it is far from talent-deprived. This is a good basketball team that can compete with some of the better teams in the country — especially with improved coaching.
Describing a roster as “not talent-deprived” isn’t necessarily a vote of confidence, though. This team is not at the level of the Huskies of the early-2010’s let alone the 1990’s and 2000’s. The Huskies lack the game-breaking star power that led those teams. From 1990-2010, UConn had 15 players drafted in the first round of NBA Draft. It’s almost certain that the current UConn roster doesn’t have a first round pick on it.
So ultimately, yes, Hurley was right when he said UConn doesn’t have everything it needs talent-wise to be successful. Can he right the ship on the recruiting trail?
When analyzing Hurley’s recruiting history at Rhode Island, it is important to note that he had less resources, worse facilities, a program with a lesser history and brand name and was part of the Atlantic 10 — a conference below the AAC. Still, Hurley managed to lead the A-10 in 247 Sports’ recruiting class rankings in his first year at URI and was third in his second year with the 63rd-ranked recruiting class in both years.
UConn is off to a hot start in their 2019 recruiting class that ranks 19th nationally according to 247 Sports’ rankings. Hurley has assembled an impressive staff and has dramatically better resources at UConn than he did at Rhode Island, so UConn should begin to consistently out-recruit the American.
Being a good recruiter isn’t enough to ensure a talented roster, though — you can ask Kevin Ollie. He had a few recruiting classes that ranked in the top-50 before breaking through with the 8th-ranked recruiting class of 2016. Ollie suffered some tough-luck due to injuries, but lost Juwan Durham, Vance Jackson and Steven Enoch to transfer — all four-star recruits. Clearly the players soured on Ollie or his program at some point.
Player relationships are a place Hurley excels, though. Hurley developed a reputation for being a player’s coach at Rhode Island. During last year’s NCAA Tournament, broadcasters gushed about how beloved he was by his players.
This year, he runs out on to the floor clapping during timeouts and chest bumps his players after wins. He even makes sure he’s keeping his players confident when they’re struggling:
Dan Hurley telling Jalen Adams to "keep firing" pic.twitter.com/pVQqoMrUx1— tcf15 (@tcf_15) December 2, 2018
UConn’s current roster isn’t a waste-land, but it isn’t a team that is ready to restore the days where the Huskies were consistently among the top-25 teams in the country — even with an impressive coach that injects life into the program with a better offense than in past years and in-your-face defense.
As Dan Hurley gets going on the recruiting trail, he’ll retool and replenish the program with players that will hopefully be ready to buy-in and establish the program on a national scale. For now, the Huskies will continue to compete with its moderately-talented yet scrappy roster as Hurley continues to lay the foundation of a new culture of UConn basketball.