Dan Hurley was teaching World History II at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark, New Jersey when he looked outside the window at Manhattan and saw smoke. About 10 minutes later, the entire school was called into the auditorium and was informed of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. September 11, 2001.
Hurley described the day as “chaos.” The school closed and everyone was sent home. That made things tough for some of the international students — some of whom had only been in the US a few weeks — so Hurley brought them back to his house.
“Because they closed the school down because they had no idea what was going on, (two-to three international students) came home with me,” he said.
Now, over 17 years later, Hurley is returning to Newark with UConn men’s basketball to play in the Never Forget Tribute Classic. Now in its third year, the event raises money for the Families of Freedom Scholarship Fund, which helps children of victims in the attack go to college. Since 2001, the fund has raised over $150 million.
The game also gives Hurley a chance to go home, something that he doesn’t get to do very often.
“I don’t get the chance to get back to Jersey City a whole lot unless they have a 6-11 kid we want,” he joked. “We’re staying in a hotel in Jersey City and we’re playing a couple blocks from where I coached high school ball. Jersey City and Newark are probably the two places that mean the most to me.”
While he’s focused on the game, delegating ticket requests to his wife and personal assistant, Hurley will take some time to reflect on the road from New Jersey to UConn.
“I appreciate those things. I think we should all take the time to appreciate how far we’ve come,” he said. “I’m going to take the time to appreciate the journey, probably during the anthem, look around saying, ‘Wow, I’m going to UConn and maybe 12 years ago I was coaching against Petty School in front of 200 people.’”
Polley Looking to Prove Florida State Wrong
Hurley won’t be the only one evoking childhood memories from the game. Sophomore forward Tyler Polley’s father played linebacker for Florida State and Tyler grew up going to Seminole football games. When the recruiting process began, he expected to end up in Tallahassee, but that never materialized.
“I thought I was going to go there, but they never offered me so that was out of the picture,” he said. “There was a connection (with his dad) but I guess they didn’t see anything in me so, hey, it’s whatever.”
While Polley said the game might be a little more personal than others, he’s more focused on getting a win than anything.
“It’s just another opponent we need to focus on and try to get this dub because it’s a big-time win for us if we do,” he said.
Tarin Smith Getting a Visit From the Tooth Fairy
In the Huskies’ last game against Lafayette, Tarin Smith ran into Polley and chipped his tooth. Smith called it “a weird accident” and shrugged it off.
“I felt it when it happened, I felt around my mouth and felt I had no tooth,” he said. “It happened before when I was real little so I just kept playing. It didn’t really hurt so I just finished the game.”
On Thursday, Smith went to the dentist to get a root canal, but didn’t miss practice. He’s going back for a crown tomorrow. But if anything, the worst part for Smith was the ire it drew from his mother.
“She’s mad at me. She’s been telling me to wear a mouthpiece since I started playing basketball when I was a kid and we go back and forth fighting and I never do it. It came back full circle,” he laughed.
Smith said he’ll start wearing a mouthguard from now on.
Diarra Still Recovering
Redshirt sophomore Mamadou Diarra has missed the beginning of the season after tearing his meniscus in the summer and still appears to be a ways off from returning.
“[We want to] give him a little more time just to get him caught up and healthy,” Hurley said. I think he’s got some more work to do before he’s really ready for competition.”
When asked if the start of conference play on Jan. 3 was a realistic target for Diarra’s return, Hurley said the forward has “a shot” but reiterated that they don’t want to rush him back.
“We don’t want him back too soon,” Hurley said. “He’s had such a tough history with it. We want to make sure he’s right.”