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    Saturday, December 03, 2022

    Hurley gives his annual state of the Huskies talk at chamber breakfast

    UConn basketball coach Dan Hurley chats with former Husky Tyler Olander after speaking at the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Friday at the Sheraton Hotel in Rocky Hill. (Gavin Keefe/The Day)
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    Rocky Hill — Breakfast and UConn basketball talk are two unbeatable combinations, especially when Dan Hurley is the featured speaker and the regular season starts in a month.

    Hurley, who’s entering his fifth season as head coach in Storrs, entertained and informed the crowd while speaking about a wide range of topics Friday morning during the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce breakfast at the Sheraton Hotel.

    Want to know about the starting lineup?

    Hurley addressed that.

    How about what he thinks about the team’s depth, or what he loves about freshman Donovan Clingan?

    Yep, he talked about those topics, too, and more.

    Here’s a rundown of Hurley’s breakdown of his UConn basketball team:

    • During his first four seasons, Hurley has returned the Huskies to respectability and led them to consecutive NCAA tournament trips, as well as contender status in the Big East. He’s developed players, with James Bouknight and Tyrese Martin both on NBA rosters and several others playing overseas.

    Now taking the next step as a program is on Hurley’s mind.

    “We’re doing some things in line with what should be going on with UConn basketball,” he said. “But for us, it’s all about the next step. Going from contending to a champion is a big step and it’s step that we feel like we’re on the verge of taking from where we’re at as a program in terms of how we’re recruiting, the culture we have in place with our team in terms of the expectation of winning when we step on the court and the way we go about our business.

    “... We function like a championship team. We just really need to break through both with potentially a regular season championship and then play our best ball in March — the Big East tournament and NCAA tournament. Our total focus is on that and the next step.”

    • Consider Adama Sanogo, Andre Jackson and Jordan Hawkins as UConn’s Big Three.

    The Huskies will go as far as that talented trio will carry them.

    Hurley believes all three have potential to be NBA draft picks next year.

    “Those three guys are clear starters and potentially three of the better players in our conference,” he said. “If you have three of the better players in the conference, you’re always guaranteed to have a really good year unless the coaching sucks. Those three guys are great.”

    • While Sanogo, Jackson and Hawkins are basically locks for the starting lineup, the competition is fierce for the other two first-team spots as well as a place in the regular rotation off the bench.

    “This year’s team, it’s the deepest, most competitive roster that we’ve had,” Hurley said. “It’s a high level of competition for roles.”

    Tristen Newton and Hassan Diarra, two transfers, are competing for the starting point guard spot. Both players put up good numbers at their previous programs.

    It will be difficult to replace R.J. Cole, last year’s leading scorer and team leader at point guard.

    “It’s a higher level for Tristen and a higher level for Hassan,” Hurley said. “But I would say it’s the most we’ve had collectively at that position. R.J. left some big shoes to fill, but I think the combination of the two right now is really, really good.

    “Either one of those guys, whoever doesn’t win it, is going to get starter’s minutes and have a huge impact on the team.”

    Newcomer Alex Karaban and sophomore Samson Johnson are fighting for a frontcourt position. Transfer Nahiem Alleyne, a perimeter weapon, is a backcourt player making a strong case.

    • Toughness, tenacity and relentless effort are trademarks of any Hurley-coached team.

    One of those traits is missing right now.

    “I’m not sure that this team has that same toughness right now,” Hurley said. “What they have is a lot of offensive skills and a lot of offensive versatility. Right now the whole mentality with our practice plan is pretty much do whatever we can to toughen this group up and create a camaraderie and team bond.”

    • Hurley continues to rave about highly-touted freshman Donovan Clingan. Clingan, the ex-Bristol Central great, is in great shape, dropping about 40 pounds since his high school days.

    Clingan is more than just a 7-foot-2 low post giant.

    “He doesn’t play because he’s taller than everybody else, he plays because he’s found a love for the game and passion,” Hurley said. “He wants to build his life around basketball so he shows up with energy and a life every day. This guy is alive. … He’s going to have a big impact on the season for us.”

    The presence of Clingan will help keep Sanogo, who wore down near the end of last season, fresh.

    • Hurley has given graduate guard Joey Calcaterra, who played at the University of San Diego before transferring to UConn, a nickname.

    “He’s from California, so I just call him Joey California,” Hurley said. “Let’s just call him a West Coast gunner. He can really shoot.”

    • Frontcourt reserve Richie Springs, who’s played a total of 41 minutes in two seasons, rarely comes up in conversation when talking about the Huskies.

    But Hurley mentioned Springs on Friday.

    “If we had a game tonight, Richie would be in our rotation of top nine,” Hurley said. “If Richie is brutal today (in practice), he’ll fall out of that.”

    • Former UConn forward Tyler Olander, who won two national championships during his time in Storrs, attended Friday’s event. He’s interested in getting into coaching.


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