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UConn men’s basketball: Hurley and Vital on the same page entering new season

Also, Hurley explains how he’s using a photo to motivate his team and why he’s not thrilled with a part of the non-conference schedule.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

In Dan Hurley’s first season at UConn, he and guard Christian Vital didn’t exactly have the best relationship. Hurley expressed displeasure with Vital’s defense after a buzzer-beater loss to Wichita State and also took him out of the starting lineup at one point. In their second year together, the pair has put a lot of time into working through whatever issues they had in the past.

“Me and Christian, we spent a lot of time talking. There’s no mediator, it wasn’t like counseling for us, relationship counseling,” Hurley joked. “But it was good to just spent a lot of time talking. We understand him better and he understands how I need him to carry himself. I just want him to play with the mindset that he’s not at odds with the staff, the staff’s behind him.”

It’s not a big surprise Hurley and Vital clashed last season. Hurley certainly isn’t short on personality on the court and isn’t afraid to tell players how he feels. Vital, meanwhile, exudes confidence and has at times come off as cocky or immature.

“Our communication is as the best it’s been,” Vital said. “And I think we’re on the same page. I think we have the relationship a head coach and a senior guard are supposed to have in a winning program.”

Chasing a championship

UConn is preparing to play its final year in the AAC and over the six years of the conference’s existence, the Huskies have never won the regular season championship. In fact, they’ve never finished higher than where they’ve been picked in the preseason poll.

But none of that matters to Hurley. He intends to go out with a bang. A photo of the AAC championship trophy has been following the team around everywhere they go.

“We did that at Rhode Island just as a reminder what the expectations should be for us and what what you should be constantly in pursuit of,” Hurley said. “You shouldn’t be in pursuit of individual accolades...you’ve got to be chasing a championship.”

So where does the photo go? On the court, locker room, cafeteria?

“Anywhere you could think of. Bathroom, everywhere,” Vital laughed.

However, Vital doesn’t think a conference championship trophy should be the only thing motivating a UConn team.

“You don’t really need any motivation when you when you decide to come to UConn,” he said. “But when you see [the trophy photo] in front of your face like that every day, everywhere we go, and then coming in here seeing those four banners, it’s definitely a reminder.”

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

Non-conference no-go

With Hurley only in his second season at the helm, he hasn’t had much input on the Huskies’ non-conference schedule since they’re typically made a few years in advance. Overall, the coach seemed pleased with the slate of opponents, except for one game: Playing at Villanova after conference play begins.

“No, I would never do that,” Hurley said.

“I don’t like throwing a non conference game in the middle of the season where you’re supposed to be locked in on winning a regular season conference championship,” he continued when asked to explain. “Oh wait, we’re going to step away from that and go play Villanova. When you get into conference play for me, you’re just you’re so focused on conference play. To throw in a non-conference game, just to me, I don’t like it. I’d never do it. I’ll never do it.”

Hurley may have issues with the Big East schedule, then, according to a report from Jon Rothstein.