Year one of the Dan Hurley era came to an end with a loss to Houston in the American Athletic Conference tournament on March 15. Since then, the Huskies’ offseason has been a rollercoaster, and certainly one worth looking back on before Hurley and UConn start the 2019-20 season at home against Sacred Heart on Friday, November 8th.
With Hurley’s first season in the rearview mirror, we took a statistic and holistic approach to reviewing his first season. While the record wasn’t something Hurley and Husky fans were proud of, the building blocks seem to be settling in place to return UConn back to one of the country’s elite basketball programs.
Early on, Hurley’s chances for a strong second season got much better after junior Christian Vital announced he’d be returning for his senior season. While Vital hasn’t always seen perfectly eye-to-eye with Hurley, his return gives the Huskies a legitimate shot at getting back to the NCAA tournament.
Vital stepped up as a junior, and was an integral part of a unit of guards that was dynamic at times, especially when Jalen Adams, Alterique Gilbert and Vital were all healthy. We looked back on the guards’ performances from the 2018-19 season, as well as the wings and centers. Overall, these units were rough around the edges, but have the potential to greatly improve under Hurley’s tutelage.
In May, UConn’s 2019 schedule became a little clearer, as the Huskies were announced as part of a stacked field for the 2019 Jimmy V Classic, joining Louisville, Indiana and Texas Tech to square off at Madison Square Garden.
May also saw UConn’s final 2019 roster spots begin to take shape. Hurley landed transfer RJ Cole, a prolific guard from Howard who played for Hurley’s father in high school and averaged 21.4 points per game as a sophomore last year. It unfortunately wasn’t all positive for UConn though, as Mamadou Diarra’s playing career came to an end this offseason due to multiple knee injuries. However, he’ll still be able to make his mark on this year’s team as a student assistant coach.
As June came to a close, it ended with some of the biggest news in UConn history - a move back to the Big East, renewing rivalries with Villanova, Providence, St. John’s and others in the process. We broke down what UConn’s return to the Big East meant for the program shortly after.
Later in the summer, Dan Hurley finally signed his contract with UConn after finishing an entire season operating off of a memorandum of understanding. When he signed his official deal, he also activated a one-year clause that extended his contract to 2025. Hurley had this option due to NCAA sanctions from the Kevin Ollie era, with the most noticeable punishment being a loss of a scholarship for the 2019-20 season.
With all this free agency money flowing for former Huskies, it will likely keep them high on the list of schools with the highest median salary amongst NBA players since 1991.
Two-time national champion Shabazz Napier also was affected by a crazy year of NBA free agency. After being dealt to the Golden State Warriors for less than a day, Napier was sent to the Minnesota Timberwolves as part of a three-way trade that helped the Warriors land D’Angelo Russell.
With the school year approaching, Hurley locked up this season’s final scholarship by landing Richie Springs, who reclassified to 2019 to join the Huskies. He joined Jalen Gaffney, James Bouknight and Akok Akok to complete an exciting recruiting that Hurley thinks could grow into something special with some time.
Shortly after, the full 2019-20 schedule was released, and preseason rankings were out. The Huskies were picked to finish sixth in their final year of the AAC, and start the year ranked 71st in KenPom.
In between all of that, Hurley already reaped his first benefit of the move to the Big East with the commitment of four-star wing Andre Jackson for 2020. Jackson chose UConn over nearby Syracuse, citing the opportunity to play in the Big East in front of his family.
And just like that, basketball season was back in Storrs. First Night featured flashy intros, a T-Pain concert and some big dunks by Bouknight that got the crowd fired up. However. a few days after First Night came to an end, news broke that Bouknight had turned himself in to the police for crashing a car on campus in late September.
After fleeing the scene, Bouknight confessed to the crime and applied for an accelerated rehab program to clear his name. While Bouknight is currently practicing with the team, his status for at least the start of his freshman season is still unknown.
We’ll have our first chance to see the Huskies Wednesday night in their exhibition matchup with St. Michael’s College.