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With new mantra in tow, Dan Hurley ready to build on last season’s success

The UConn men’s basketball coach has made sure his players haven’t forgotten about the final 45:07 of the season.

Ian Bethune/The UConn Blog

For the first time in over a year and a half, UConn head coach Dan Hurley met with local media in person outside the Werth Champions Center this past Friday. To commemorate the occasion, Hurley stoically modeled the some new swag for this year’s Huskies; a new practice shirt with 45:07 on the front, just above the Husky logo.

The new shirt serves as a reminder for how the Huskies finished their first season in the Big East this past year. While UConn went 15-8 and made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016, the Huskies’ season ended on a flat and sour note.

For the final 5:07 of the Big East Tournament semifinals against Creighton, the Bluejays outscored UConn 9-3 after star guard RJ Cole went down with an ankle injury, ending its return to Madison Square Garden a bit earlier than some expected. The Huskies followed it up with arguably one of their worst offensive performances under Hurley in their NCAA Tournament opener against Maryland, suffering a 63-54 defeat.

Instead of putting that final stretch of a chaotic 2019-20 season behind, Hurley wants everyone to remember it — and use it as a rallying cry for a shot at redemption in this year's NCAA Tournament. For Hurley, the easiest way to do that is to put it just about anywhere he can think of.

“45:07 is like implanted in their brains,” Hurley said. “People are coming on the unofficial visit and asking why it’s on the scoreboard, why it’s on shirts, why it’s on people’s laptops. You need things that are driving you. You get at these guys in a lift and somebody doesn’t want to finish their last set on the bench. Somebody’s got to be in there yelling 45:07. You don’t want to watch film as a coach on July 3, at six o’clock because you want to go food shopping for a barbecue the next day — 45:07. You need that? You need that to drive you.”

While the Huskies have one of the most talented incoming recruiting classes in recent memory, Hurley and UConn will need to find a way to manufacture offense with star guard James Bouknight gone, soon to be taken in the upcoming NBA Draft.

“The ball is gonna have to move better. I think when you have a player, that’s that dynamic of a guy. As a tendency, you become a little bit less aggressive, a little bit more passive, a little bit wondering and waiting for Bouk to go and do something.”

With Bouknight no longer available to carry the scoring load or bail the Huskies out late in the shot clock, upperclassmen like Cole and Tyrese Martin may have pick up the slack. The return of seniors Isaiah Whaley and Tyler Polley for one last run should provide some much needed depth and experience throughout the lineup as well.

But to get UConn to where Hurley wants the team to go, the Huskies need to have those returning starters take their game to another level.

“I think the big thing for a team like this is that guys that had good years have to go from good to great. You got a guy like RJ or Tyrese until the end of the year or like Isaiah — you know, guys that had a good year, right — or who are trying to go from good to All-Conference levels [this] season. So there’s chip on your shoulder to do that. And then you had some guys that, let’s say were disappointed in their year, whether it was injury or inconsistency or coaches that don’t feel that don’t feel good about the way March went to end the season, that 45:07.”

With the way UConn’s season ended and the way Hurley is plastering those four numbers all over the facility — it’s safe to say 45:07 is here for the long haul. And while the Huskies’ team this season will look much different than last year with the loss of Bouknight and three new freshmen, Hurley hopes it can serve as a reminder for UConn to stay hungry and improve every day to bring a fifth title back to Storrs.

“There’s not a program in the country that’s going to have a bigger chip on their shoulder going into this year,” Hurley said. “I think we all feel like confident that we achieved some goals. But none of us walk around the building patents and patents on the back about how we did last year.”