Talent, athletic ability, skill, passion for the game, court awareness and how they interact with teammates, but mostly passion. Those are the characteristics that UConn men’s basketball head coach Dan Hurley looks for in a recruit.
That’s what the Huskies think they have in their 2021 recruiting class of Rahsool Diggins, Jordan Hawkins and Samson Johnson.
“When the heat turns up, they don’t blink,” Hurley said.
2021 recruiting class
This recruiting class is ranked No. 8 in the nation at the moment, according to 247Sports. That’s much higher than typical recruiting powerhouses like No. 29 Duke, No. 32 UCLA, No. 37 Kansas and No. 40 North Carolina. While those rankings will certainly change — it’s still early, after all — but it’s impressive nonetheless.
Hurley’s 2021 class is one that feature two top-55 guards (Diggins and Hawkins) and a top-80 forward (Johnson), each from different parts of the northeast region and each recruited by different assistant coaches.
Hurley described the 6-foot-1 point guard as a player with “that moxie,” stemming from his “Philly toughness, Philly grit.” He also said he has tons of game, which he showed off at the Slam 16 event earlier this month alongside Johnson.
“I think he’s a point guard that has the ability to elevate the abilities of the people around him because of his playmaking skills,” Hurley said.
Hawkins is the highest-ranked player in this UConn class. He is a 6-foot-5 shooting guard who is going to score in droves. He shot 46% from 3-point range at DaMatha Catholic in Hyattsville, Maryland
“He’s Central Casting for the prototypical athletic shooter with great length and all types of upside,” Hurley said. “He’s just the perfect type of wing prospect that offensively is going to be and incredibly dynamic wing and a guy that is just a next level prospect.”
Hawkins will be the type of player Hurley needs to supplement the lost offense with their current starting shooting guard and best player, James Bouknight, potentially leaving for the NBA Draft next year.
Hurley and staff found Johnson when going to scout freshman Adama Sanogo at The Patrick School in New Jersey. Sanogo reclassified from the 2021 class to join Hurley’s team for this season, but Johnson will join an increasingly deep frontcourt in Storrs.
Hurley said him and assistant coach Kimani Young “loved him right away” after seeing Johnson play and that he thinks he could be an “NBA-level” player one day.
As Hurley pointed out, Sanogo and Johnson are two very different types of big men. Sanogo is a more traditional inside-scorer and rebounder, whereas Johnson’s scoring impact is a blend of running the floor and the outside shot.
Hurley’s recruitment of previous classes
Both Hurley and Young were in on Bouknight before they arrived in Storrs their first year. Hurley said he loved him when he was still at Rhode Island and Young “saw him a lot” during his tenure at Minnesota.
“I just fell in love with James’ effortless athletic ability, his talent, his skill level and how easy he makes the game look,” Hurley said.
Hurley said Akok Akok and Bouknight were the “immediate priorities” of the schools’ 2019 class. The third-year head coach hadn’t seen sophomore Jalen Gaffney at the time of his hiring, but later saw him and moved to get him later on.
He thinks of the 2019 class as the turning point of the program under his watch, after signing transfer R.J. Cole in addition to Akok, Bouknight and Gaffney. All four of them look to see heavy workloads on a team that could start seven or eight different players throughout the season.
Hurley once again brought up junior guard Brendan Adams’ value to the program as well, as the first signee of the Hurley era. Adams is primed to increase his role this upcoming season, after averaging 22 minutes per game in his sophomore season – nearly 10 minutes per game more than his freshman campaign.
“At a time when things were not very stable here, we brought in a very good basketball player, but we brought in somebody you can build a winning organization with,” Hurley said of Adams.
The most recent class of Andre Jackson, Javonte Brown and Sanogo has heightened the level of play in practice, he said.
Jackson is Hurley’s highest rated recruit in his time at UConn, and the 17th-best in the tracked recruiting era, according to 247Sports. He is a highly-athletic forward that UConn hasn’t really had under Hurley’s watch.
Adding Sanogo and Brown has added tremendous size and length to the school’s frontcourt, something it was lacking. The team’s rebounding numbers have been poor over the past two years, Sanogo and Brown — should Brown earn a role — will help fill that hole in UConn’s game.
“Whenever we get started again, the present group is very talented, we’re excited to play and obviously our future’s bright with 2021 and beyond,” Hurley said.