EAST HARTFORD - For a program that is used to having a firebrand as its head coach, Dan Hurleyâ€™s style is unlikely to come as a shock to UConn basketball fans.
But for the current Husky players, none of who were in Storrs when Jim Calhoun was in charge, the new UConn head coach may bring a shock to their system.
The Huskies will begin offseason workouts in earnest next week, and Hurley expects his new players to be shocked.
â€śWeâ€™re about to get after it on Monday, probably at a level thatâ€™s going to be uncomfortable at times for them as they adjust to the intensity level that my teams work at,â€ť Hurley said Wednesday night before an event for fans at Pratt & Whitney Stadium. â€śItâ€™s different. Itâ€™s like Oregon in football or something, the pace of my practices. Itâ€™s something you have to adjust to.â€ť
Hurley, who was hired just over two months ago to replace the fired Kevin Ollie, appeared at the Huskiesâ€™ football stadium Wednesday for a â€śHappy Hourâ€ť event with the public.
As if to highlight his no-nonsense style, the coach even got into a playful spat with a member of the audience.
While trying to describe his emotional style during games, Hurley heard a few muffled words from the back of the crowd.
â€śHey, thereâ€™s a lot of muttering over there,â€ť Hurley said, drawing a few laughs from the crowd.
â€śYouâ€™ve got faults, too!â€ť he said to the fan, a wide grin on his face. â€śWeâ€™re all just trying to get better.â€ť
Thatâ€™s certainly what Hurley is trying to do with the Huskies. Coming off back-to-back losing seasons - something not seen since Calhounâ€™s arrival in 1986 - Hurley has talked openly about changing the culture at UConn.
â€śItâ€™s tough to be a menâ€™s basketball player coming off the two seasons that these guys have gone through here,â€ť Hurley said. â€śItâ€™s hard walking around campus. Itâ€™s hard having a lot of confidence and feeling good about wearing UConn menâ€™s basketball across your chest when youâ€™re part of a couple of the worst seasons in the last 25, 30 years.â€ť
In addition to working the players intensely on the court, Hurley talked about building them up emotionally and returning some of their confidence.
â€śFortunately for me Iâ€™ve been through this process two other times, at Wagner and then at Rhode Island. The healing, the rebuilding the organization, starting something from a struggling point, getting the buy-in from the players, putting a great staff together, just kind of fixing things that are broken in and around the program,â€ť Hurley said. â€śThis is the third time. I kind of had a plan coming in.â€ť
Hurley said he believes heâ€™s already addressed some of the teamâ€™s needs with the coaches and support staff heâ€™s hired, as well as with the three recruits heâ€™s added.
And he makes it clear what the first goals are for the Huskies in the upcoming 2018-19 season.
â€śTry to be better than weâ€™ve been the last couple of years and try to get some credibility back on the national landscape of college basketball,â€ť Hurley said.
Hurley is barred from commenting on recruits until theyâ€™ve signed paperwork with the school, but it appears the Huskies are out of the running to land Mustapha Heron.
The Waterbury native is transferring from Auburn to be closer to his mother in Connecticut.
UConn currently does not have a scholarship available, which obviously complicated those who expected Heron to land with the Huskies.
Hurley said Wednesday that his teamâ€™s 2018-19 roster has likely been finalized.
â€śObviously college basketball is fluid with the amount of transfers you get every year, but I feel like this is probably the 13 weâ€™re going to be going with,â€ť Hurley said.
UConnâ€™s 10 returning players will be joined by fifth-year transfers Tarin Smith (Duquesne) and Kassoum Yakwe (St. Johnâ€™s), as well as Baltimore-area high school standout Brendan Adams.
â€śWe wanted to get out of the late signing period as effectively and efficiently as we could,â€ť Hurley said. â€śI thought we were able to do that with those three guys.
â€śOur emphasis is 2019-2020 recruiting. Itâ€™s huge for this program to get the quality talent and character that led this program to the great heights itâ€™s been at.â€ť
An emotional good-bye
Kevin Freeman is departing the UConn program, leaving his post as director of basketball administration for an assistant coach job at Penn State.
Even though Hurley only worked alongside Freeman for a few months, the former says he will be missed greatly.
â€śWhat an incredible ambassador he has been and will continue to be for UConn,â€ť Hurley said.
Hurley said he first interacted with Freeman when a young Freeman was playing for Paterson Catholic in New Jersey against his dadâ€™s team at St. Anthonyâ€™s in the mid-1990s.
â€śThis is a guy who deserves advancement in his career. If anyone does in this business, itâ€™s him,â€ť Hurley said. â€śI think heâ€™s going to be an amazing coach in college.â€ť
An impact hire
UConn made what Hurley called an â€śimpactâ€ť hire with the addition of Sal Alosi to the program. Alosi was hired Wednesday as director of human performance, a position that encompasses the duties of what most programs refer to as a strength coach.
â€śHis personality as a coach and the standards he sets for our program right now is pretty good fit,â€ť Hurley said. â€śI think we were a team that wasnâ€™t very physical last year, probably a little bit soft at times.â€ť
Alosi, 41, is a native of Massapequa, New York, has made waves in a few of his last few jobs.
While the strength and conditioning coach of the New York Jets in 2010 he tripped a Dolphins player while he ran close to the sidelines trying to cover a punt.
And while serving in the same capacity with the UCLA football team in 2015, Alosi got into a confrontation with rapper and music mogul Sean â€śP. Diddyâ€ť Combs over the treatment of Combsâ€™ son, a UCLA player.
â€śSome things in his career that he addressed with us when we brought him in and met with him,â€ť Hurley said. â€śI felt comfortable that this was a guy thatâ€™s experienced a lot of things, like we all have, and has learned a great deal from his experiences.â€ť
In between his stings with the Jets and the Bruins, Alosi was the head strength and conditioning coach for Bryant Universityâ€™s athletic department.
â€śThis is a guys that is going to bring a ton of intensity and toughness,â€ť Hurley said.
Hurley is set to throw out the first pitch before the Mets-Cubs game Sunday at Citi Field. He said he got some advice, sort of, from his brother Bobby.
Bobby Hurley threw out the first pitch before a Diamondbacks game not long after being hired as the head coach at Arizona State.
â€śHe said he was scared like you wouldnâ€™t believe,â€ť Hurley said. â€śThat made me a little nervous.â€ť