UConn men's basketball's tradition of excellence helped bring Hurley to school

Published on Sunday, 25 March 2018 21:10
Written by Neill Ostrout

Journal Inquirer

STORRS - Dan Hurley has an excellent reputation in college basketball as a builder. That’s one of the reasons UConn officials wanted so badly to bring the former Rhode Island coach in to lead the Huskies.

But the Huskies also want to be the last reclamation project he takes on.

They have gotten their wish.

“I didn’t know if I would coach at Rhode Island forever. The way things had gone the last couple of years for us it felt like it might go that way. The wave of momentum and the way we were building,” Hurley said. “But I knew deep down inside I wanted just one more job in coaching, a place where Final Fours and national championships are a real distinct possibility.

“I had to make one more move to put myself in that position and this was that move. This is that destination.”

The four-time national champion Huskies are coming off back-to-back losing seasons, a tailspin that sparked the firing of Kevin Ollie March 10, despite the fact that Ollie remains the coach who delivered championship No. 4 four years ago.

It is the pedigree that UConn still possesses, despite its rather humble new home in the American Athletic Conference, that drew Hurley to the job.

Pittsburgh, which also has a coaching vacancy, offered Hurley a contract of similar value to the one he signed at UConn. And Rhode Island attempted to sweeten the pot of its deal with Hurley in an attempt to keep him in Kingston.

But Hurley said he would only consider leaving the Rams for a small list of schools at which he insists he always dreamed of coaching. UConn was on top of that list, he says, but still had to ponder his choices for a few days.

“It was hard. I got so many calls and messages from people saying, ‘What’s taking you so long? Are you crazy? That’s UConn,’” Hurley said. “But the true affection that I have for the place I’ve been for six years was difficult for me to walk away from.”

Although the current Huskies finished the last two seasons nowhere close to being nationally ranked, Hurley seems to believe that his task of making UConn relevant again around the country is not as arduous as the jobs he took on in his previous two head coaching positions.

“This is nowhere near the situation that I walked into at Wagner and at Rhode Island. I believe that group of young men to our right has a much better season ahead of them next year if they’re fully committed the way they need to be,” Hurley said, gesturing at the players. “It’s not the same rebuild.”

Hurley met with the current UConn players Friday morning, and all were in attendance for his formal introduction later in the day.

“I tried to philosophically explain to the group who I am, my background and how this program is going to operate,” Hurley said. “I think it will really hit home for them when we get on the court for that first individual workout. My first individual workout makes quite an impression. You’ll find out how bad you really want to be great in that first 40-minute workout.

“What I said to them is that I would love for all you guys to be back,” Hurley added. “I feel we can have a much better year than we had last year if you guys fully commit to the way I run my program.”

There are often numerous roster additions and subtractions when a coaching change occurs, and perhaps the biggest question mark with the Huskies is whether their leading scorer, guard Jalen Adams, returns for his senior season.

Adams said Friday he was “excited to see how things go” and that he talked to Hurley about the way the team will be run but said he’s not 100 percent ready to commit to returning for his senior season.

“I’m not entirely sure. I’m still trying to figure things out for myself,” Adams said. “As of right now, I want to live in the moment. I just want to work on building a relationship with coach and keep on building a relationship with my team.”

Adams added later that transferring to another school isn’t an option for him at this point, and that it’s likely a choice between turning pro and returning to play for Hurley next season.

Hurley has a reputation not unlike former UConn coach Jim Calhoun for being a feisty competitor. The 45-year-old says he’s toned it down a bit over the years, but admits he can’t change who he is.

“On game night I’m a supporter. During practice I’m a little more of a butt-kicker,” Hurley said. “I’ve grown a lot in terms of trying to calm down with the officials. Because they’re really easy to get distracted by.”

Tom Moore, who spent the last year as Hurley’s assistant coach at URI, says Hurley is singularly focused.

“He’s a roll-your-sleeves up, just get to work type of guy. He’s not into anything other than being a basketball coach,” said Moore, the former UConn assistant and Quinnipiac head coach.

Moore is set to follow Hurley and re-join the Huskies, though as of Friday he had not signed a contract at UConn.

Posted in The Bristol Press, UConn on Sunday, 25 March 2018 21:10. Updated: Sunday, 25 March 2018 21:12.