Hur­ley gets UConn’s mo­tor started

The News-Times - - SPORTS - JEFF JA­COBS

STORRS — There were just un­der seven min­utes left in Dan Hur­ley’s first night as coach of the UConn bas­ket­ball team when Josh Carl­ton, one of his spe­cial projects, couldn’t cor­ral an of­fen­sive re­bound.

Carl­ton re­fused to give up on the ball. One of a bunch of big men who un­doubt­edly needed ther­apy af­ter Kevin Ol­lie had fin­ished with last sea­son’s mad, er­ratic ro­ta­tion of post play­ers, Carl­ton dove for the ball. And he kept on div­ing, clear­ing out cheer­lead­ers and land­ing hard at the front row of fans.

The 6-foot-9 sopho­more didn’t save the ball.

He did win Hur­ley’s heart.

Hur­ley dashed off the UConn bench and with a time­out called, he pushed through the crowd. As Jalen Adams helped Carl­ton get to his feet, there was his coach pat­ting him

on the back of his head and slap­ping him on the back. Carl­ton pat­ted him back. What did Hur­ley tell him? “Yeaaaaah­hhh!” Carl­ton said.

“Josh Carl­ton was big tonight,” Hur­ley said.

Very big.

The sell­out crowd at Gam­pel Pavil­ion, hop­ing the new coach wouldn’t pull a hammy in the opener, loved it.

“That’s a mes­sage for the whole team,” Hur­ley said. “We want our team to get ex­cited more about that type of ef­fort than even made buck­ets.

Carl­ton, who scored a ca­reer-high 17 points in the 80-70 vic­tory over More­head State, wasn’t taken aback.

“It’s doesn’t sur­prise me,” Carl­ton said. “That’s coach Hur­ley. But it is crazy for a player to see. The coach has your back like that, run­ning over. That re­ally got me en­er­gized.”

Yes, the new coach and his pet project had their mo­ment in front of 10,167 fans, who from the start seemed to sense a re­ju­ve­na­tion of UConn bas­ket­ball. Where once the stu­dent sec­tion held up block let­ters spell­ing, “OLLIEWOOD,” the kids held up “HELLO HUR­LEY.”

Hello, in­deed.

No­body smelled a 14-18 sea­son on this Thurs­day night in No­vem­ber. The scent of the first back-to-back los­ing sea­sons in three decades was gone. It was far from per­fect. Hur­ley said the team lacked a killer in­stinct at times. And, yes, there will be pe­ri­odic grow­ing pains ahead. But there was re­newed en­ergy, a hard de­sire to de­fend and get out on tran­si­tion. And there was a big man go­ing 8-for-10 with eight re­bounds in just un­der 27 min­utes.

“I give it up to my guards,” Carl­ton said. “They were look­ing for me.

“I am a lot more con­fi­dent. I’m not sec­ond-guess­ing my­self. I’m not con­fused about much. There are some things I don’t know, but I’m go­ing to learn. Hav­ing that year un­der my belt, know­ing what it’s like, re­ally helped.”

When Jalen Adams found Tarin Smith to com­plete a fast­break bas­ket to open a 61-49 lead with 9:55 left, Hur­ley turned and lifted his arms to urge on the fans. He would do it again af­ter Carl­ton went to the hoop to fin­ish a play at the rim with 4:58 left. Carl­ton had 15 points once last year against Mem­phis. This bas­ket would give him his ca­reer high in Game 1 of his sec­ond sea­son. With his coach urg­ing on the fans again, they re­sponded loudly, quite loudly.

No, it wasn’t 10 toes in, but it was 10,167 throats in. Af­ter­ward Hur­ley called the crowd, the stu­dents, awe­some.

A few week­ends ago, af­ter the Huskies’ open-prac­tice, Hur­ley would say that he coaches Carl­ton and Sid­ney Wil­son the hard­est of all his play­ers in prac­tice. Wil­son

has been sus­pended in­def­i­nitely for a un­spec­i­fied vi­o­la­tion of univer­sity pol­icy, so we’ll have to see how all that coach­ing works out with Sid. For Carl­ton, Hur­ley said, it was all about “mo­tor,” that en­ergy level.

“Are his eyes wide open?” Hur­ley said the day. “Is he alert? Is he aware?”

“Coach re­minds me for us to play to our full po­ten­tial I’ve got to step up,” Carl­ton said. “Com­ing into the sea­son, there was a lot of doubt about our front­court and a lot of em­pha­sis on the back­court That’s why if I do my work, then we’ll be a com­plete team.”

On this night, Hur­ley said, “Josh has real ta­lent. He’s go­ing to be in the deep end of the pool this year. We need him as still a young player to per­form at a high level if we’re go­ing to be suc­cess­ful. If his mo­tor is up and his ac­tiv­ity is up, the way it was the ma­jor­ity of the game, he has a chance to be a start­ing player on a re­ally good UConn team.”

Carl­ton said Hur­ley is on him. Ev­ery day. Ev­ery prac­tice.

“He tells me ev­ery day to play low, play with en­ergy and fo­cus on de­fen­sive end,” Carl­ton said. “He chal­lenges me ev­ery day. Rev my mo­tor. He’s on me hard ev­ery day, yelling at me. I think it’s pay­ing off.”

And if you think Hur­ley run­ning out to Carl­ton un­der the bas­ket was some­thing, Carl­ton said, you should have seen prac­tice on Wed­nes­day.

“He had a great prac­tice,” Hur­ley said. “He was do­ing some real man stuff around the bas­ket. He had his team­mates ex­cited.” Turns he had his coach jacked, too. Carl­ton said he got the ball down low when one of the guards got their hands on it. He said he ripped the ball free and fin­ished at the bas­ket.

“When I fin­ished that, he took a lap around the gym,” Carl­ton said. Around the gym?

“Yeah,” Carl­ton said, smil­ing. “So when he ran over when I was on the ground tonight it didn’t sur­prise me.

“See­ing him run­ning around, crazy-like, makes you want to jump.”

Hur­ley said he’s an early riser. Carl­ton is al­ready in the gym work­ing on jump hooks, work­ing at the free throw, work­ing in the weight room.

“He cares a lot,” Hur­ley said. “This means some­thing to him. He looks the part of a young big with real po­ten­tial. You don’t have to beg him to get into the gym. He has a nice touch. He has to get con­sis­tent min­utes and let him play through some bad stretches and learn from his mis­takes.

“We’ve been hard on Josh, I’ve been hard on him. The staff has been de­mand­ing of him to grow up quickly. Yawkwe (Kas­soum) will help us there when he’s healthy. Eric (Cobb) was ser­vice­able in there tonight. But Josh has to emerge as a good, young big for this to work for us this year. To sur­prise peo­ple and be bet­ter than peo­ple think.”

Jes­sica Hill / As­so­ci­ated Press

UConn’s Josh Carl­ton is guarded by More­head State’s James Baker, left, and La­mon­tray Har­ris on Thurs­day.

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