Huskies hit the court
While it wasn’t perfect, Hurley was happy overall with first practice
STORRS — Dan Hurley led UConn through a 21⁄2-hour grind Tuesday at the Werth Family Champions Center, the first of 30 official practices over the next 42 days for the Huskies before the games begin.
Hurley wasn’t always pleased, particularly with a few of his veteran players. At one point, after the team went through a timed shooting drill to hit as many 3-pointers as possible, he gathered the players together at midcourt, seemingly ready to lead them through a post-practice group talk.
Then, quicker than a James Bouknight first step, Hurley changed his mind and snappily directed his players to do better in another five-minute 3-point drill.
“I got on some of the older guys,” the fourth-year UConn coach said. “I didn’t think they had enough pop.”
When it was finally over, Hurley was in a generally upbeat mood. He’s happy
with sophomore center Adama Sanogo, whom he deemed the team’s best player right now and through whom the Huskies’ offense will run. He loves his team’s depth, particularly in the frontcourt.
“We have 10 guys vying for anything from potentially a starting role to 6through-10 off the bench,” Hurley reported. “The competition is fierce. I don’t know that anyone’s role is guaranteed, beyond maybe a couple of guys, in terms of sure-thing, gonna be a starter/focal-point guy. The beauty of this group is the depth.”
He directed most of his ire not toward any particular player but to the Big East schedule-makers. Hurley doesn’t like the fact that the Huskies have to play their final 12 league games without a bye, heading into the conference tournament in early March.
“I’m not sure what that is,” he said. “I voiced my displeasure with that.”
But that’s Dan Hurley. As his father, Hall of Fame high school coach Bob Hurley Sr. once said, Dan isn’t happy unless he’s complaining about something.
Mostly on Tuesday, Hurley was just happy to get back to official practices with a group of players he clearly loves and expects big things from.
“I love the build-up, the grind of practice, people earning their roles, not just expecting things,” he said.
Yet it didn’t feel all that different than the past four months for the head coach.
“We’ve been going hard since June,” Hurley said. “The level we play this sport at, it’s got to be all yearround. We’ve been practicing through the summer, we just haven’t had the 20 hours a week.”
The Huskies feel Hurley’s patented wrath throughout summer workouts, though those only run an hour a day.
“We try to maximize every second we can spend with them,” Hurley noted. “It gives us a greater advantage going into the year over other programs that don’t quite do what we do all year-round.”
And so ...
“For us, it doesn’t really feel like a first day,” Hurley said. “I don’t know if the players felt like it was the first day.”
At least in this instance, they weren’t completely on the same page as their coach.
“It was very different,” Sanogo said, “because today we worked on a lot of offensive stuff that we didn’t work on in the summer.”
“It’s a different feeling,” added fifth-year senior Isaiah Whaley. “You’re learning, but there’s the feeling the season is close now, so everybody’s excited for he season to start.”
Expectations will be high this season for the Huskies, who earned their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2016 last spring. There are four freshmen joining the program, and though those guys are “lost defensively” right now and have to play a little tougher, at least two of them — 6-foot-11 Samson Johnson and 6-5 guard Jordan Hawkins — have “wall potential” according to Hurley (i.e., they could someday have banners on Werth’s wall signifying that they’re NBA lottery picks).
Speaking of lottery picks, UConn will have to address the loss of Bouknight, taken with the 11th overall selection in July’s draft by Charlotte.
“Who?” Hurley playfully quipped, when asked about replacing Bouknight’s nearly 20 points per game, before adding. “I don’t see that being a problem this year.”
Bouknight was the team’s only key loss. UConn didn’t add anyone from the NCAA transfer portal. Didn’t really need to. The Huskies will be expected to finish at or near the top of the Big East this season. They will be expected to be an NCAA Tournament team again — and unlike last season, get past the opening round.
And that suits Dan Hurley just fine.
“My whole life, being a Hurley in New Jersey, you always had to sneak up on people,” he said, in jest. “I mean, come on. You don’t come here unless you love pressure and expectations and want to take a step closer to being a program that’s thought of being a championship contender, year-in, year-out.”
A picture of the Big East championship trophy — replacing the AAC championship trophy picture from previous years — stood off to the side at Werth as a reminder of the team’s goals.
“The key is consistent guard play,” Hurley added. “If that’s there, we have all the ingredients.”
⏩ UConn isn’t likely to play any preseason exhibition games this season, but rather play a pair of closed-door, “secret scrimmages” against good Division I teams, then treat its annual First Night as more of an intrasquad scrimmage in front of fans.
⏩ Hurley’s beef with the Big East schedule stems in part from what he felt UConn did for the league last season.
“We did a lot for the league last year. We put a guy in the lottery, which is obviously good for the league and the brand. That bothered me.”
⏩ Freshman Corey Floyd Jr., who reclassified from the Class of 2022 to 2021 about a month ago, could see some minutes this season.
“Corey’s a baller,” Hurley said. “He’s very advanced, in terms of his approach. He’s very professional, very serious. So he’s kind of blown us all away with how mature he’s been in practice. We want to put him in a position by the end of this year where we feel like he can really help us the following year.”