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UConn men’s basketball itching to start the season

The Huskies open the season Wednesday night against Central Connecticut State University.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

After taking two weeks off due to a positive COVID-19 test, the UConn men’s basketball program had four “realistic” practice days before their first game on Wednesday at 8 p.m against Central Connecticut.

Head coach Dan Hurley said he knew that they could play their scheduled non-conference matchups after Friday’s practice, their second since the shutdown.

Hurley said he is comfortable with playing because of the depth they’ve created on the roster and how much the team wants to play these games. He had previously voiced some hesitation in how the team was going to conduct itself following the delay.

They would likely not be playing the opener had the team not accumulated the depth they were able to or gone in with seven or eight guys like they were down to after Tyler Polley and Akok Akok’s injuries last season, he said.

“When you’re coming out of a two-week quarantine, realistically, I think you probably need the week,” Hurley said in a Zoom press conference Tuesday night. “I would say that I was influenced by the players. These guys, early on when we got into our first practice together, they desperately want to start playing.”

He later said that the staff has even been trying to reign sophomore James Bouknight in a bit since he’s going at “110 miles per hour” getting ready to play.

“Bouknight’s been like foaming at the mouth right now, to get out there,” Hurley said.

Bouknight was named to the preseason All-Conference Second-Team late last month as well as the Naismith Award Watch List. He figures to be UConn’s leading scorer in his second season after last season’s, Christian Vital, graduated and is playing overseas.

Hurley also remarked on the loss of Vital, saying he is most looking for someone to replace his leadership and “spark” than a single player to replace his scoring. The additions of R.J. Cole, Tyrese Martin, a healthy Polley and Akok and the freshmen trio of Andre Jackson, Adama Sanogo and Javonte Brown should be enough to supplement the lost scoring.

“Before [Vital] started making shots, last year in the last third of the season, he was still setting the tone with the motor, with the toughness, with the intensity,” Hurley said. “So, Hopefully Isaiah [Whaley] can give us that and be the guy that lights the spark, so to speak.”

Last season Whaley turned up his production to a level that had not been previously seen from the big man in the last six games of the season.

They have two games scheduled this week, one Wednesday against CCSU and another Friday against Hartford to open their season.

As it stands now, Akok will be the only one limited for Wednesday’s game, but he is moving along faster than Hurley had anticipated. He had even gone as far to say that Akok’s health was the biggest surprise coming into this season.

“It’s kind of startling, I didn’t think he’d be doing the things athletically that he’s doing,” Hurley said.

Polley said his knee is feeling “100%” and he is ready to play when he popped into the Zoom call for a short time Tuesday. He has been rehabbing his knee since mid-January when he tore his ACL in practice.

The team was nearing the point in the preseason where rotations were beginning to sort themselves out before they were shut down for two weeks, but Hurley feels they have a good plan heading into week one.

Hurley also said that UConn women’s basketball head coach Geno Auriemma texted him during practice to wish the team luck for Wednesday’s game. He planned to talk to Auriemma about what to expect with the women’s team going into quarantine Tuesday for a positive test sometime soon.