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    Wednesday, May 22, 2024

    Superstitious is the way with UConn’s Hurley

    UConn head coach Dan Hurley during a Sweet 16 college basketball game against San Diego State in the men's NCAA Tournament, Thursday, March 28, 2024, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

    Dan Hurley follows a list of superstitions longer than his team’s dominant March Madness run.

    Given the fact that UConn has won an NCAA record setting 10 straight tournament games by double digits dating back to last season, and the Huskies are returning to the Final Four, Hurley doesn’t plan to change anything now.

    That’s fine with his players.

    “Whatever works, works,” redshirt sophomore Alex Karaban said. “It’s worked his entire coaching career. Why not continue it?”

    Hurley, who’s in his sixth season as UConn head coach, sticks to a strict and somewhat strange routine on game days.

    He eats eight M&Ms before the game, removing the color of the team’s uniforms that UConn is playing that day. He does some aromatherapy. He wears the same outfit, right down to his red dragon underwear.

    He drinks mushroom blend coffee on the sidelines. He tries a “bunch of things” to bring UConn luck shooting free throws.

    Off the court, he sometimes wears a lucky hat.

    And those are just the superstitions that Hurley talks about. He has others.

    “I’m the king of superstitions,” Hurley said.

    UConn is the reigning king of college basketball.

    The top-seeded Huskies are attempting to become the first team since Florida in 2007 to repeat as national champions. They’ll have to beat No. 4 Alabama Saturday (8:49 p.m.) in the semifinals at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., and then either No. 1 Purdue or No. 11 North Carolina State in next Monday’s title game to accomplish the feat.

    Hurley’s pregame routine helps calm his mind before his team steps on the pressure-packed postseason stage.

    “Sometimes you’re just in the back of the locker room by yourself a lot, everyone else is out there, and it’s just you and your thoughts…,” Hurley said. “Your mind is racing. A lot of the superstitions, the M&Ms and the clothes, it’s almost like you’re putting on armor. It’s almost like watching Rafa Nadal before he serves. He goes through this weird process of things that settles him before he serves the ball.

    “It just takes the mind away from thinking about all the bad things that could happen over the course of the next couple of hours.”

    Few bad things have happened since UConn suffered an upsetting first round loss to New Mexico State in the 2022 NCAA tournament. The Huskies have gone 66-11, won the 2023 national championship, captured the Big East regular season and tournament titles this season while winning a program-record setting 35 games.

    Hurley has his team believing his idiosyncrasies play at least a small part in that incredible run.

    In fact, his players have picked up a few superstitions of their own.

    “I love it,” graduate transfer Cam Spencer said. “I wasn’t superstitious before I got here but I am now. I think everybody in the program is. It worked last year. I’m sure he had his different things last year. But I’m all for it. Winning cures all.”

    Spencer and road roommate Karaban have their own must-do routine on road trips. It has to do with how they enter their hotel room.

    “I’ve got to go first, and then wait, and then he’s got to go,” Karaban explained. “It’s just weird.”

    In the final regular season game, the Huskies found out what happens when one of Hurley’s game-day routines is disrupted.

    Just after the opening tip in a Big East regular season finale at Providence on March 9, Spencer knocked over Hurley’s mushroom coffee.

    The Huskies quickly fell behind, 15-2.

    “That’s why we started so badly,” Hurley said. “That put me in a tailspin. I didn’t even call offense or defense on the next two possessions.”

    UConn recovered — and Hurley eventually did as well — and easily posted a Big East record-setting 18th league win.

    The next day, Hurley reminded his team about the accident during a video session.

    “That was actually the first piece of film that we watched after the Providence game,” Karaban said. “He stresses how important it is not to knock his coffee over. I think he got (assistant coach) Tom Moore to get him another one.”

    Hurley admits it can be a bit overwhelming keeping track of and following all of his superstitions.

    His wife, Andrea, does her part to help out.

    Andrea is using a portable washing machine — a gift from the couple’s two sons — during the NCAA tournament run to clean her husband’s lucky socks and underwear.

    Some game day routines Hurley can only perform at Gampel Pavilion or the XL Center, like burning sage to cleanse the arena. And some happen before the Huskies arrive for a game.

    “He’s always got to take a nap,” said Andrew, Hurley’s son and walk-on on the team. “I think everything he does, whether it’s superstition, or whatever it is, it’s just to prepare to coach and manage a game for 40 minutes.”

    While UConn’s talent, depth, experience and championship culture will ultimately determine whether the Huskies raise a national championship trophy next Monday night, the Huskies plan on sticking to proven winning routines.

    Hurley will feel much better at the Final Four if Andrew is on the court dribbling out the clock at the end of another convincing win.

    “That’s been another superstition,” Hurley said. “Get him the ball, please.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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