Just barely a year ago, Jalen Gaffney decided to transfer after three seasons with UConn. The decision was somewhat surprising at the time — given the known departures, Gaffney was primed for at least a bigger role than he had in any previous season — but opted to ensure a chance to play under Dusty May at Florida Atlantic.
Fast forward to now, and Gaffney, like the Huskies, is set to suit up for the Final Four Saturday. Gaffney’s Owls will take on a tough San Diego State squad, but 9-seed Florida Atlantic has already been one of the big surprises of the tournament. After winning their first-ever tournament game over Memphis in the first round, May’s Owls are now a step away from the title game and cementing themselves as one of the best title runs in college sports.
In the end, Gaffney’s decision to transfer worked out for everyone. Gaffney is playing more minutes than ever (22.7 per game) in Boca Raton, and UConn is in the middle of its best season in nearly a decade. And they both ended up in Houston in the Final Four with a trip to national title game on the line.
“I’m thrilled for Jalen, thrilled for his family that it’s played out so great and that he’s had such a successful season,” Hurley said. “I have a lot of appreciation and gratitude towards Jalen, because just like the Bouknights, and Isaiah Whaleys and Tyler Polleys and Akok Akok’s, everyone, Christian Vital and Jalen Adams, he’s a huge reason why we’re here as a program. He helped us build the culture and begin to have success.”
Gaffney has started 23 games for the Owls this season but has come off the bench in each tournament game so far. He scored a season-high 14 points earlier this year against Eastern Michigan and has five points and four assists so far this NCAA tournament. His defensive presence and ball-handling ability have gone a long way, as Florida Atlantic is 35-3 and owns the nation’s longest win streak at 11 games.
“Jalen has brought a calming presence. He’s brought an IQ and knowledge to our team,” May said. “He’s been an unbelievable teammate every single day. He doesn’t care about shots. Doesn’t care about starting. Doesn’t care about the spotlight. Just cares about being a great teammate and enjoying the process.”
Now, Gaffney has a shot to help his team reach the championship for the first time ever. If the Owls can take down the Aztecs and UConn can defeat Miami, they have a shot to square off for a national title. For now, Gaffney is taking things one game at a time.
“It would be cool but I haven’t really been focused on that,” Gaffney said. “I’ve been focused on San Diego State.”