Last year’s UConn men’s basketball team saw its season abruptly end as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the world as we knew it in mid-March. An offseason which started early also featured a conference move and the addition of some new players who will play key roles for the team.
As the world changed and adjusted to the pandemic, news came quickly and plans changed fast. Eventually, the American Athletic Conference tournament at Dickies Arena was cancelled shortly after the team landed in Texas. Head coach Dan Hurley did his best to express his feelings on the news and the fact that his second season at the helm came to a rather abrupt end.
Even though the pandemic cut senior guard Christian Vital’s UConn career short, the team and its coaches had a lot to be proud of, including finishing 52nd in the country in KenPom. The UConn Blog crew looked back on the year in terms of the progression of the backcourt, frontcourt, and the rebuild under Hurley.
In transfer news, Alterique Gilbert moved to Wichita State, while Sidney Wilson entered the portal on April 3 and ended up at SIU-Edwardsville. Shortly after Gilbert’s departure, Hurley landed Tyrese Martin, who played at Rhode Island for two seasons before transferring to UConn and was declared eligible for this season a few months later.
Source: UConn's Tyrese Martin has received a waiver from the NCAA and is eligible for the 20-21 season.— Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein) September 16, 2020
Transfer from Rhode Island.
Speaking of transfer, we took at look back at how some former Huskies and Husky commits were faring across the NCAA in a “Where are they now?” article.
In April, we heard from Hurley roughly a month after the season ended and unofficially turned the page toward the 2020-21 season. Vital discussed the end of his career as he reflected on his four years in Storrs.
Hurley rounded out the Class of 2020 with a major commitment from big man Adama Sanogo, who chose the Huskies over conference foe Seton Hall and others after reclassifying from the class of 2021 to get to Storrs early. A few weeks later, we found out Sanogo’s jersey number along with the rest of the newcomers.
As protests took place across the country following the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmad Aubrey, the team voiced their opinion for the Black Lives Matter movement and Hurley touched on how the events in Minnesota and other states made an impact on team. Assistant coaches in the Big East took even more action as a group of 21 assistant coaches of color in the conference formed a racial equality organization to help make progress in the conference and off of the court.
With UConn’s move to the Big East inching closer as July 1 neared, we reunited with some old friends and met some new ones in the blogosphere as we previewed each of the new Big East schools. It’s a lot of content, but we think it’s worth the read. Schools are in alphabetical order.
St. John’s: Preview
Soon enough, July 1 came around, and the Huskies were back in a conference that made sense. Hurley, like so many UConn fans, was pretty pumped about it. As the summer rolled on, we looked at former Huskies stars that have landed major shoe contracts as professionals.
Later on in July, the UConn family was dealt a devastating blow when Stanley Robinson passed away at age 32. Robinson was a fan favorite, and his incredible talent and athleticism helped lead the Huskies to their third Final Four in 2009. Unfortunately, the program suffered another tragic loss just a few weeks later after Cliff Robinson, one of the first stars in program history and the centerpiece of the 1988 NIT title team, passed away at 53.
Shortly after the move to the Big East, the program went through some coaching changes. Mike Rehfeldt joined the Huskies as Director of Sports Performance in early July, replacing Sal Alosi. Roughly six weeks later, assistant coach Kenya Hunter, a key to UConn’s recent recruiting success, left to join Archie Miller’s staff at Indiana. He eventually would be replaced by UConn alumnus and 1999 national champion Kevin Freeman.
Even with the coaching shakeups, Hurley continued to add to the roster. He targeted a strong walk-on candidate within his own household and swayed his son Drew to the squad. Fellow walk-on Matt Garry’s season has unfortunately already come to an end with a knee injury. Hurley also quickly put together one of the top class of 2021 recruiting classes in the county, landing Rahsool Diggins, Jordan Hawkins, and Samson Johnson all in less than a month.
Later on in the year, we caught up with former UConn greats like Kemba Walker, Shabazz Napier, and Rudy Gay to see how they were doing in the NBA’s bubble at Walt Disney World.
By the time August rolled around, things started picking up again. Hurley met with the media once again, and this year’s senior class discussed their role as leaders. The backcourt of RJ Cole, James Bouknight and Jalen Gaffney discussed the improvements they’ve made to their game since the world completely changed in March.
After weeks of speculation, the NCAA finally provided some clarity on when the season would start. A few weeks after finding out their start date, UConn still didn’t have any opponents on the schedule but learned they wouldn’t be playing at the XL Center in Hartford this season due to COVID-19 concerns. Despite this crushing news, the Huskies’ freshmen were still overjoyed to be a part of the program.
In mid-October, UConn finally got a little more clarity on their upcoming schedule. The Legends Classic was moved from Brooklyn to nearby Mohegan Sun Arena to create a bubble in an effort to help keep student-athletes safe. The field changed slightly, but still features three quality opponents that lead to two strong matchups for the Huskies. As COVID-19 has caused so many things to change on a dime, we created a schedule tracker to stay on top of the latest information regarding the 2020-21 schedule.
While the pandemic has disrupted so many things since March, the annual Middlesex Chamber of Commerce meeting lived on, albeit virtually. Here, Hurley previewed the 2020-21 roster, discussed Brendan Adams’ emergence as a team leader, addressed some of the team’s strengths, and touched on how the freshmen fared in their first collegiate practice.
As the season gets closer and closer, UConn prepared for their first season back in the Big East with a brand new set of white, blue, and gray uniforms — all with red trim.
After that, media day had finally arrived. The Huskies were picked to finish fourth in the conference in the coaches’ poll and Bouknight was named All-Big East Second Team. The conference also released the schedule for conference play in December, with UConn opening up Big East play against St. John’s on Dec. 11. KenPom also released their update for the coming season, with the Huskies coming in at No. 43.
With the 2020-21 campaign fast approaching, COVID-19 is still obviously a major concern. The Big East outlined their protocols during media day and UConn announced later on in November that the state of Connecticut would not allow fans in Gampel Pavilion for at least the start of the season. Then, UConn halted team activities on Nov. 5 after an unidentified player tested positive for COVID-19. With this result, the Huskies are unable to practice until Nov. 19 - just six days before their season opener against Central Connecticut on Nov. 25.
While the program is still unable to practice, the team was able to announced that all three members of their highly-touted 2021 recruiting class signed their letters of intent on early signing day.
The season is only a couple of weeks away, so here are some important links to follow Coach Hurley and the Huskies all year long:
- The UConn Blog: Where you can get all the news, coverage, and video about the team
- Storrs Central: Features and analysis on the Huskies
- The UConn Fast Break: A newsletter with all the UConn sports news you need to know