Dan Hurley’s introduction as the next head coach of UConn men’s basketball marked a transition for the program in several ways. There’s obviously the regime change from Kevin Ollie to the former Rhode Island leader. There’s the transition in style of play, which we’ll cover in a separate article next week. There’s the roster turnover, which does occur every year, but typically increases when a team changes head coaches.
And then... well, then there’s everything else. This is not your uncle’s, or even your older brother’s, UConn Huskies.
Hurley knows this situation well, though. His career so far has been an exercise in rebuilding programs quickly and effectively. At Wagner, he inherited a 5-26 team and built them into a 25-game-winner just two seasons later. The team even finished above .500 in each of the next two seasons after his departure.
At Rhode Island, Hurley took over after Jim Baron’s eleven-year tenure with the Rams ended with a seven-win season and zero total NCAA Tournament berths. In Hurley’s third year with URI, the Rams won 23 games. Two years later, they were making the first of two consecutive NCAA Tournaments, each ending in the Round 32. Respect.
So while this is a position Hurley is accustomed to, during his introductory press conference he noted that UConn already has the reputation and talent that he had to build himself at his previous two stops. While that doesn’t mean he won’t continue to grow the UConn program, it does mean the Huskies’ rebuilding year(s) likely won’t be nearly as difficult as they were at URI or Wagner.
We know there will be talent returning—the majority of this year’s freshman class will be back, Sidney Wilson has indicated he won’t be leaving, and Alterique Gilbert isn’t going anywhere as he finishes his rehabilitation from injury—but questions remained about the status of some of last year’s top players, as UConn’s top two scorers have gotten plenty of notice from professional scouts. Christian Vital’s social media posts are certainly indicative of a player who already made the decision to return, but Jalen Adams was less committed. The rising senior point guard said today that he was “definitely not transferring,” but when asked about starting his professional career early said “as of right now, I’m not entirely sure.”
Adams did mention that he had already talked to Hurley about the upcoming season, that Hurley’s former players at Rhode Island had reached out to talk about their coach’s impressively-if-not-infamously intense practice sessions, that he was looking forward to a new system (feeling no particular allegiance to Ollie’s on-court strategies), and that he acknowledged the potential for a successful season if the returning players were able to buy in to the system. On that note, at least, the point guard and his new coach were on the same page; Hurley used the same phrase when referring to the group of Huskies he hasn’t been able to know very well yet.
The uncertainty when meeting a new coach after is something Hurley can sympathize with, as he played for both P.J. Carlesimo and former UConn assistant coach George Blaney at Seton Hall, but he also reminded the gathering of reporters and UConn officials that while he committed to a program led by Carlesimo, Blaney is the coach he ultimately felt was best for him.
For his part, Hurley made sure to praise the players multiple times in his remarks, noting their ability and potential, but wasn’t sure what the future would hold for anyone. “The first individual workout gives quite an impression,” he said of his plans for these players. “We’ll find out a lot in that first 40-minute session.”
There’s a lot of time between now and the Huskies’ first game under Hurley in early November, and in that time, many new challenges will arrive. The pressure of being a new coach at a school with expectations of success will surely be a factor, as will the inevitable roster turnover, residual effects from a disappointing season, and having to coach up players who are used to a different system than the one he runs. But this is nothing new for Hurley. If nothing else, UConn knows it has a head coach who, in addition to the exemplary qualities that made him a hot commodity on the coaching market, has experience solving each of these problems.