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    Saturday, December 03, 2022

    Newton, Hawkins building chemistry on and off the basketball court at UConn

    UConn sophomore Jordan Hawkins chats with the media following Wednesday's practice at the Werth Family Center. (Gavin Keefe/The Day)
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    UConn men's basketball coach Dan Hurley addresses the media following Wednesday's practice at the Werth Family Center in Storrs. (Gavin Keefe/The Day)
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    Storrs – Tristen Newton and Jordan Hawkins are more than UConn basketball teammates.

    They’re roommates, too.

    It was coach Dan Hurley’s idea to room the two together.

    “Coach did that on purpose,” Newton said after Wednesday’s practice. “He wanted the point guard and shooter to be together. He wants us to jell together.”

    They both could be in the starting lineup when the regular season begins.

    Newton, a transfer from East Carolina, is one of the leading candidates to fill the starting point guard vacancy while Hawkins, a shooting guard, is looking to have a breakout sophomore season.

    They’re getting along great and building chemistry on and off the court.

    “He’s a great dude,” Newton said. “At first, it was pretty rough. But now we’re everywhere together. You see him, you’re going to see me. It’s a great relationship.”

    Hurley is setting a tough tone during the first official week of practice. He has a lot to sort out with eight newcomers on the roster before the season opener on Nov. 7 against Stonehill.

    There’s been a noticeable ramp up in the intensity this week in practice. The Huskies went for about two hours and 20 minutes on Wednesday.

    “The first week, you’re really trying to build team toughness and a training camp type of mentality,” Hurley said. “Even looking past some things fundamentally that might not be exactly what you want to challenge people. … Before you can play well or win, you’ve got to learn how to fight and fight hard and fight together and build a camaraderie through a great challenge, so we put these guys through a fire with these practice plans early to try to build a strong, together team.”

    The Huskies felt the effects of Wednesday’s grueling practice.

    “My legs hurt, but I’ll be alright,” Hawkins said.

    Hawkins, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard with a reputation as a lethal perimeter weapon, will be a key player for the Huskies. He showed flashes of potential while battling injuries last season. He earned a spot on the All-Big East freshman team, averaging 5.8 points and 2.0 rebounds.

    Since the season ended last March, Hawkins has been working on his ballhandling, moves off the dribble, playmaking and defensive skills.

    “I’m trying to become a two-way player,” he said.

    Hurley is in favor of that happening. He wants Hawkins to be more than just player with a sweet looking jump shot.

    “We need him to play both ends of the court,” Hurley said. “But we just want him to be as prolific a scorer/shooter as he can be this year. Anything that he gets a look at, we want him firing.”

    UConn lost a lot of point production with the departure of four of the team’s five leading scorers from last season’s team.

    Newton has the ability to light up the scoreboard.

    Last year as a starter for East Carolina, Newton averaged a career-best 17.7 points to go with 4.8 rebounds and 5.0 assists during his junior season.

    But it will be difficult to replace All-Big East first team point guard R.J. Cole.

    Newton, along with the other newcomers, will have to get up to speed quickly

    “We need production from him,” Hurley said. “Obviously, we know he’s a guy that’s averaged a lot of points per game at a pretty good level.We know that the scoring will translate. Some of the facilitators and point guard-type of things that you have to know, the nuances of the game, we’re working through.

    “The play in and play out motor, the life or death nature of Big East basketball, we’re trying to get across to all these new guys that haven’t been in it.”

    Hawkins has been impressed with Newton during workouts.

    “Tristen has been looking really good,” Hawkins said.

    Hurley names team captains

    Hurley usually doesn’t name team captains, but felt compelled to do just that this season, picking sophomore Adama Sanogo and junior Andre Jackson, two returning starters.

    “For me, that’s the best compliment that you give a player in your program,” Hurley said. “Their work ethic is off the charts. They’ve accomplished players in terms of their production and what they’ve been able to do in their career. They’re about winning. I think they can handle the burden of leadership.”

    News and notes

    Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun watched practice Wednesday and talked to the coaching staff and team afterwards. “He said I out-cursed him today, which I know is not true because I’ve been up here to watch Coach work and I’ve seen him in the Big East tournament and I shared the court with him when I was a player,” Hurley said. “I couldn’t hear everything that he was saying but I know it wasn’t always nice.” Hurley values Calhoun’s advice and would like to bring the Hall of Famer back to more practices this season. … Hurley on running full practice sessions: “You get that long practice headache from screaming for two hours and 20 minutes, so it feels good.” … Freshman Donovan Clingan, who starred at Bristol Center, says he’s in the best shape of his life. “I’ve never felt better.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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