Sports fans, I won’t sugarcoat it. It’s rough out there. The light at the end of the tunnel seems tantalizingly out of reach at the moment. The safety of you and your fellow neighbor is far more important than any sportsball at the moment.
But indulge me for a second, and just try to imagine your life one year from now. You’re taking the subway to Madison Square Garden to see the Huskies play in the first round of the Big East tournament (we get a first round bye, of course.) You stop at Sbarro and get yourself a classic New York slice. Somewhere, millions of miles away, Tulane is playing Cincinnati at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas. Meanwhile, we’re kicking off March Madness with tens of thousands of fellow Huskies chanting “U-C-O-N-N” at the mecca of basketball. All is right in the world.
That’s a vision for the future we can all believe in.
We had a chance to hear from UConn men’s basketball head coach Dan Hurley this past Thursday. Hurley dished on roster changes, player evaluation, and the new recruits coming in. There were nuggets galore, but the real juicy stuff came from the questions about UConn’s return to the Big East.
Here’s what Hurley had to say about UConn coming home. WARNING: Don’t read if you hate the word “exciting.”
Q: What are you most looking to? What will it be like to play Seton Hall?
Hurley: “Bus rides. A lot more familiar territory. All our old foes, the old rivalries. Then you add tremendous programs like Xavier and Creighton. To play in a basketball conference at this caliber— as we’re on the upswing — is incredibly exciting for the players. There’s a tremendous amount of excitement around the program.
“I played Seton Hall a couple times at Rhode Island, so that won’t be as big a deal from an emotional standpoint, but its still a great thrill for us to going into a conference like this. The level that this league is played at a level UConn should be playing at.”
Q: What steps are in your mind about the transition to the Big East?
Hurley: “We’re beginning right now. Before we left, all of the coaches took a couple of teams in the conference each to look at. I took a few games from each team in the league too. We have to start studying the conference really closely, so we have a familiarity with the different styles of play. We’re trying to get a better feel for the league; we played Xavier and Villanova this year, and I’ve played Creighton, Providence and Seton Hall back when I was at Rhode Island. We have a decent feel right now, but we have to study the conference as a whole.”
“Beyond that, there isn’t much more to do. Travel will put us at a less of a competitive disadvantage. It will be so much more exciting for our fans. We were drawing amazing crowds this year; our fans were awesome. They saw the direction and saw where things were headed and I think they loved our team this year. There’s so much excitement brewing, we really want to get past this difficult time as quickly as possible, continue to do a great job recruiting, and keep engaging our fanbase to get them ready for one of the most anticipated seasons in a while around here.”
Q: Moving into the Big East, does that change Year Three expectations? Or is the path still the same?
Hurley: “The American is a great basketball league. Tremendous coaches, good teams, some high-level places to play. Memphis, Cincinnati, Houston, Wichita State have venues and crowds at high levels. I thought SMU had a tremendous team, Temple is a historically great program. It’s an underrated basketball league so it’s not like we’re coming from a mid-major conference.”
“But the Big East is a level up, a greater challenge going into year three. With the core we’re returning, the potential with the four newcomers, plus Tyler returning from injury. Akok’s best case scenario will be like adding a mid-year transfer, if he’s able to heal up. We have an infusion of four guys we think can help, plus the potential to make another move here and there to strengthen where we’re at. We’re a program that’s trending up, I think the next logical move for us if we stayed in the American would be a 13-5 type of year in the conference. What will that translate to the Big East? We’ll see.”
Q: Out on the recruiting trail connecting with players, how much will conversations steer talk toward the Big East?
Hurley: “In the American, we had to educate people, parents, and sometimes coaches on how much better the league is than they thought it was. The Big East speaks for itself. The thought is for a kid to be part of an re-emerging program on the national scene back into the Big East, with the level of play and excitement of the arenas, and the chance to play in the Madison Square Garden in the Big East tournament. Then you’re adding that with our fanbase and tradition.”
“It fills that last gap in terms of there’s no longer a reason for a kid to call us and say ‘I don’t love UConn.’ That conference piece for UConn being where we’re located was critical. But it’s still about kids wanting to play for me and be a part of the way we do things as a program.”