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As summer mantras fade, RJ Cole is stepping up as a leader

Head coach Dan Hurley has been on the senior point guard about bringing the energy in practice

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Connecticut vs DePaul Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

All summer long, UConn men’s basketball (currently ranked no. 24 in the AP Poll) drummed up ‘45:07’ as the new team mantra. It was everywhere: shot clocks, social media, and yes, even t-shirts.

The last 45 minutes and seven seconds of UConn’s season certainly left a sour taste. It was a frustrating end to a promising season. Head coach Dan Hurley said it best at Big East Media Day earlier this week:

“You feel great about the things we accomplished in year three. Competing at the top of the league, getting an at-large bid, losing James Bouknight but putting together a big step forward, then putting Bouk in the lottery. But that last 45:07 was not UConn like UConn should be in March. That’s not the standard we signed up for. When we get on that stage in March of next year, we have to be better.”

With less than three weeks until tipoff against Central Connecticut, 45:07 will surely be the rallying cry all season, right?

Not so fast. To Hurley, 45:07 was just a mantra to help cultivate an offseason work ethic. He’s ready to move on.

“That was a mentality we wanted during the summer to drive and push us,” he said. “Once you get to September and it starts to get colder, you don’t need those external things anymore, because you know what’s coming.”

What’s more important than any mantra is the type of summer work the Huskies put in under Hurley.

“For us, it's an everyday thing. We get our guys on campus as soon as we can,” Hurley told Rob Dauster and John Fanta in a podcast interview. “We work eight weeks in the summer like it's November. These guys understand the work rate and the intensity we work at every single day. It’s a culture thing. The standards are incredibly high every day.”

Hurley, who called himself “maniacal” with preparation and practice intensity, is making sure upperclassmen follow suit from day one, and no one is spared from a callout. Senior point guard RJ Cole was reportedly dogged by Hurley on the first day of practice. The head coach wants his point guard to be a vocal leader on the team.

“I continue to embrace that role, every day coming into practice making sure that I’m constantly communicating, constantly talking to guys, and making sure they’re in the right spots. So definitely I’m taking that to heart.”

Fellow senior Tyrese Martin noticed Cole respond: “I’ve definitely seen him embrace that role and the expectations from coach. He comes in, he talks, he leads, all of the things a team needs from someone like that on and off the court.”

“RJ’s responding a whole lot,” fifth-year senior Isaiah Whaley said. “Coach had challenged him, and with great programs, their point guards are usually the head of the ship. We need RJ to be that leader. He’s been stepping up to take on that leadership role.”