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UConn men’s basketball: Dan Hurley excited about conference swap; Huskies back on-campus

UConn’s head coach also provided some roster updates during a conference call on Wednesday.

The ECU Pirates take on the UConn Huskies in a men’s college basketball game at the XL Center in Hartford, CT on February 3, 2019. (Ian Bethune - The UConn Blog)
Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

UConn is back in the Big East. You know it, I know it and now Dan Hurley has spoken about it.

The UConn men’s basketball head coach sat down with the media on a teleconference Wednesday to talk the new conference as well as provide updates on the team and how they’re handling the return to campus.

Unsurprisingly, Hurley seemed ecstatic about the conference move.

“Going back to the Big East wasn’t a small win, it was a huge win,” he said. “It brings UConn basketball to its identity. At least from the men’s side, it puts us in a position to, I think, realistically make a run at being that elite program again.”

Big East impact

There are many points in which the Big East helps UConn tick back up to the next level. As Hurley mentioned, it brings the school back to its roots and helps it re-find its identity that was aimlessly floating in the deadly waters that the East Carolina Pirates sail through. An identity lost at sea idling next to the island of misfit toys called the American Athletic Conference.

Now that UConn has hit land again, it is back to the big city and the tournament that is fixed under the lights.

“There’s nothing like the Big East tournament and I don’t think there’s anything remotely close,” Hurley, who spent his playing days with Big East cohort Seton Hall, said.

UConn has won that very tournament seven times with the last coming during its thrilling five games in five days run in 2011.

Hurley anticipates the energy at conference games to be high, noting that he expects home games to be sellouts and road games to be near sellouts as well.

“I love electrifying atmospheres. I love playing in big games and now we have a chance to play 20 of them guaranteed in conference and every one of them is going to be huge,” Hurley said.

The Big East ranked fourth among men’s basketball conferences in total attendance with over 1.85 million fans at their games in 2019, which was more than the Big 12 and Pac-12 — both Power 5 conferences.

Fans aren’t the only people showing up in droves because of the return, either. Highly regarded recruits are back to do more than just try the Dairy Bar’s ice cream.

“It had an impact in recruiting, it definitely had a role with Andre Jackson’s recruitment, I think it definitely helped with Adama,” Hurley said.

Hurley’s thoughts on the season

There were two sides to the coronavirus topic for this press conference: one question asking whether a season will happen at all and the other about how the team is handling the social distancing and testing on-campus.

Hurley said he’s trying to stay optimistic about the likelihood of a season and is focused on preparing for November, or a later, start. He later added that he didn’t think it was quite the time to make a determination on the college basketball schedule.

Later, he mentioned that the data he has seen is scary and acknowledged that the virus disproportionately affects Black men. He said he may never be comfortable with playing considering that a majority of players and nearly half the coaches on the team are people of color.

“I’m not sure that I would ever be comfortable, unless this thing changes pretty significantly,” Hurley said.

Coronavirus precautions

In terms of how the team is trying to minimize the spread of the virus in-house, the team is following state guidelines as well as protocols established by team trainer James Doran.

As of Wednesday, nine of the 13 rostered players were on campus, but Hurley wasn’t allowed to say exactly who was and who wasn’t back with the team.

All nine, at least, were tested for coronavirus, went into a self-quarantine to wait for test results and all came back negative. They will continue to be tested “periodically,” Hurley said, including as the remaining players are added.

He also said that a “number of the staff” have been tested and allowed to return as well.

Workout groups were initially limited to two people at a time — including on the court the practice facility — but Hurley said that has been expanded to groups of four because of the success in Connecticut at controlling the virus. The on-court groups, however, are at stationed at opposite ends of the facility and everyone is wearing masks, Hurley said.

The best work that these guys will be able to do with us right now is obviously camaraderie, chemistry. They’re going to be able to get strength work in, if they volunteer to do it, and they are able to get into the practice gym and get shots,” Hurley said.

Team updates

Hurley said Tyler Polley’s medical reports have been looking good and Akok Akok “looks great” and is shooting again. Hurley considers both to be ahead of schedule.

Javonte Brown-Ferguson, who is from Ontario, Canada, has not joined the team yet because he hasn’t been able to transfer over his I-20 form — an immigration document — since it requires the student to be enrolled in an at least one partially in-person class.

There were no professors available to teach an in-person summer class at UConn right now, but Hurley said they’re trying to get him into one during the second summer session, which starts on August 1.