UConn-Cincy will have a fra­ter­nal flair

Stamford Advocate - - Sports - By David Borges

CINCIN­NATI — The Youn­cof­ski broth­ers, Eric and Greg, grew up in New Jersey wor­ship­ping at the al­tar of round­ball.

“Our lives re­volved around bas­ket­ball,” Greg, the older of the two, re­called. “‘Ob­sessed’ would be the word.”

Just about ev­ery day after school, it seemed, the two would be look­ing for pick-up games at the park. They both played at Mid­dle­town (N.J.) North High, and there have been plenty of one-on-one bat­tles be­tween the two over the years, as well.

But not any­more. “The games got too com­pet­i­tive,” Greg re­ported.

Both Eric and Greg Youn­cof­ski re­main hun­gry and driven as they try to make their re­spec­tive ways up the col­lege coach­ing lad­der and ul­ti­mately take over pro­grams of their own. But that com­pet­i­tive, fra­ter­nal fire won’t be in ev­i­dence on Satur­day night as they face each other from op­po­site benches, when UConn faces Cincin­nati at Fifth Third Arena (8 p.m., ESPN2).

Eric, 24, is in his first year as Dan Hur­ley’s di­rec­tor of bas­ket­ball op­er­a­tions at UConn. Greg, 28, is in his first sea­son as one of Mick Cronin’s as­sis­tants at Cincin­nati. If you think the two have been trash-talk­ing all week and are bat­tling for Thanks­giv­ing din­ner brag­ging rights, how­ever ... you don’t know the Youn­cof­ski broth­ers.

“It’s like any other game,” said Eric. “We try to take that same ap­proach.”

“I’m not re­ally think­ing about it as ‘Him vs. Me,’ ” Greg added. “I’m just try­ing to do my best to re­it­er­ate the coach­ing staff’s mes­sage to our guys, to make sure they’re as pre­pared for UConn as pos­si­ble.”

UConn (10-6, 1-2 AAC) will be look­ing to build off Thurs­day’s nice, 76-64 win over SMU. Cincin­nati (13-3, 2-1) will be happy to be back home after los­ing at ECU, then need­ing over­time to edge Tulsa on Thurs­day.

Ul­ti­mately, the game will be de­cided by Hur­ley, Cro- nin, Jalen Adams, Jar­ron Cum­ber­land or any num­ber of other play­ers. The Youn­cof­ski broth­ers won’t fig­ure in the box score.

Eric, who served in the same ca­pac­ity un­der Hur­ley at Rhode Is­land last sea­son, is in charge of much of UConn’s day-to-day, be­hind-the-scenes stuff: setting up travel ar­range­ments, shootaround times, prac­tice sched­ules. If the Huskies got a lousy night’s sleep the night be­fore at a bad ho­tel, blame Eric Youn­cof­ski. Oth­er­wise, he’ll have no out­come on the game, other than of­fer­ing sup­port from the bench, keep­ing track of fouls and time­outs.

Eric is a true Dan Hur­ley dis­ci­ple. He played at URI as a walk-on for three

years, then served as Hur­ley’s grad as­sis­tant for two be­fore tak­ing over as di­rec­tor of bas­ket­ball ops last sea­son. When Hur­ley took the UConn job in March, Youn­cof­ski fol­lowed.

“My first year was his first year (at URI), so I was a part of the whole process,” Youn­cof­ski said. “I saw it first-hand, had a front-row seat to the re­build there. It was amaz­ing.”

Youn­cof­ski’s dream is to some day run his own program, and he’s tak­ing notes.

“Just be­ing a walk-on for coach, then work­ing on his staff, it’s all about the guys,” he said. “He does ex­tra stuff for the guys — read­ing, pod­casts, so much more than bas­ket­ball. It’s so ful­fill­ing. I want to take that

ap­proach to his thing where it’s not just bas­ket­ball, it’s so much big­ger, try­ing to help peo­ple down the road.”

Greg Youn­cof­ski is in his sixth sea­son at Cincin­nati but first as an as­sis­tant coach. He was a stu­dent man­ager at Kansas for four years and went straight to Cincin­nati after grad­u­at­ing, serv­ing as a program as­sis­tant for three years, then video co­or­di­na­tor for two be­fore be­ing pro­moted this sea­son.

He and Eric talk two or three times a day by phone about ev­ery­thing — some­times shar­ing views on com­mon op­po­nents, but of­ten just about ev­ery­day life.

“I’m su­per-happy that he’s at UConn, at a great

school,” Greg said. “These are things we dreamed about, be­ing part of his­tor­i­cally great col­lege bas­ket­ball pro­grams. We’re su­per­happy about that, but we’re def­i­nitely not think­ing about the other guy on the other side­line on Satur­day.”

Their par­ents, Greg and Kath­leen, will be “ner­vous wrecks” at the game, ac­cord­ing to Greg, sit­ting high up in the stands so no one can see them root for ei­ther team. Of course, Eric already boasts a 1-0 ad­van­tage over Greg. Two sea­sons ago, URI popped the Bearcats at Mo­he­gan Sun Arena.

But the Youn­cof­ski broth­ers aren’t go­ing headto-head on Satur­day night, or any­time soon. In fact, they hope to be on the same staff in the fu­ture, after watch­ing Dan and Bobby Hur­ley do so for a sea­son at URI.

“Their relationship in­spired us to be broth­ers in coach­ing, and hope­fully work to­gether some­day,” said Eric.

Although the Huskies have had their struggles in re­cent years, Greg Youn­cof­ski likes what he sees from afar.

“They’re gonna get it go­ing,” he pre­dicted. “I’ve got a good feel­ing about them. (Hur­ley’s) bring­ing some ex­cite­ment to it.”

Just not on Satur­day night, Greg noted.

“It’s got to wait a lit­tle longer.”

Greg Youn­cof­ski

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