The UConn men’s basketball season came to an end Saturday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament with a 63-54 loss to Maryland. The loss put the Huskies at 15-8 overall on the season after going 11-6 in their first year in the Big East.
With this season now over, Dan Hurley and the Huskies head into an offseason unlike any other. Here’s a look at what’s coming down the pipeline for UConn before tip-off next fall.
James Bouknight has a decision to make
It may be a foregone conclusion, but James Bouknight has yet to announce his intentions for the NBA Draft. He didn’t necessarily light things up in the Big East or NCAA Tournament, but remains a surefire first-round pick and is projected in the top-15 in most mock drafts. He's an elite athlete that can score in bunches and is rapidly improving on the defensive end.
Bouknight finished his sophomore season averaging 18.7 points, 5.7 rebounds, and 1.8 assists in 15 games and earned first-team All-Big East honors. Despite some struggles, he’s still one of the best NBA prospects coming out of college. Hurley (and UConn fans) should operate under the assumption that Bouknight won't be coming back to Storrs after two stellar seasons.
The senior class does, too
Due to COVID-19, the NCAA has granted all players that played this season an additional year of eligibility. This means seniors Tyler Polley, Josh Carlton, and Isaiah Whaley all have the option to play one more year, and Hurley has said in the past he would welcome any of them back for one last ride. It’s unlikely that all three of them come back — they should have options to play professionally overseas, and it’s not out of the question that Polley and Whaley receive some looks in the G-League — but bringing any of them back would do wonders for next year’s depth.
Polley won the Big East’s Sixth Man of the Year award this season and shot 35.5 percent from deep, while Whaley was consistently one of the best defenders in the country all season. Carlton played sparingly at times this season, but was credited for helping Adama Sanogo improve rapidly this year and did an incredible job on both ends against future NBA lottery pick Evan Mobley of USC. For a team that will likely lose a bunch of its scoring with Bouknight declaring, bringing back some experience would put the Huskies in good shape for next year.
While he’s not a senior, Brendan Adams took part in the UConn’s Senior Day ceremony after graduating in three years. He just entered the transfer portal, so he looks to be heading elsewhere.
Dip their toes in the transfer pool
With the extra year of eligibility for all players, this transfer season should be a pretty wild one. It’s unlikely that UConn will fill all the spots of players leaving (whatever number that may be) from the transfer pool due to the talent coming in and the talent already on the roster, but the Huskies would be smart, like any team, to look into their options.
Fatts Russell, who played under Hurley at Rhode Island in 2018, may be an option to provide some backcourt depth along with RJ Cole and Jalen Gaffney. Russell averaged 14.7 points and 4.5 assists per game this season and excels at getting to the hoop and drawing contact. No reports have said UConn’s reached out to Russell, but it’s hard to imagine Dan Hurley wouldn’t be in touch with his former player, even just to place a friendly phone call.
While the rest of UConn’s transfer targets largely depend on who leaves and who stays, this team could use another shooter and a big.
Onboard an elite recruiting class
The Huskies have the best recruiting class of Hurley’s tenure coming to Storrs this summer, a three-player group that is a consensus top-10 class in the country. Guard Rahsool Diggins leads the way as a talented guard that draws comparisons to UConn lead guards of yore. Wing Jordan Hawkins is regarded as a solid perimeter shooter and adds additional size to the backcourt at 6-foot-4. Big man Samson Johnson will likely be a defense-first player when he arrives on campus, but has incredible athleticism and should help soften the blow of potentially losing Whaley.
Diggins and Hawkins in particular should help address some of UConn’s major pain points from this past season, especially if Hawkins can emerge as a knock-down shooter right away. If Hurley can get this trio acclimated and comfortable, it may allow the Huskies to look for depth on the transfer market instead of a legit starter, giving them more options.
Class of 2022 recruiting will also be in full force this summer. Look out for Hurley and his staff to continue improving the roster by hitting strongholds like New Jersey, New York, and the DMV for top talent.
Build on this season’s success
For the first time since 2016, UConn made it back to the NCAA Tournament. Most UConn fans would consider that the bare minimum for a decent season, and based on the Huskies’ success this millennium, that’s more than fair.
After three years with Hurley as coach, it’s clear that UConn’s culture and play has improved dramatically. But the Huskies are a storied program with four national titles, Hurley, university leadership and the fanbase are fully expecting a return to competing for national championships. With a good chunk of talent and experience coming back for next season, UConn needs to shake off the Maryland game and build off of how far it’s come since the beginning of the year, while returning most of the team’s key players.