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    Monday, July 15, 2024

    Hurley really likes how next year’s UConn team is shaping up

    UConn men's basketball coach Dan Hurley speaks with media members on Thursday at the Werth Center in Storrs. (Gavin Keefe/The Day)
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    University of Connecticut head basketball coach Dan Hurley, left, and President Radenka Maric, center, are joined by Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, second from right, as they ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange, Wednesday, April 24, 2024, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

    Storrs — Dan Hurley wears the confident look of a poker player holding a winning hand.

    Results prove that he’s not bluffing.

    During his six seasons as UConn basketball head coach, Hurley has mastered the art of building a national championship team, making program history by raising two straight title trophies.

    He believes he has another winning hand after restocking the roster for the upcoming season. He’s already talking about going for a three-peat, something that hasn’t been done since UCLA won seven straight from 1967-73.

    “We like what we’ve put together,” Hurley said. “We feel like our goals aren't going to change. We think this is going to be potentially our most talented roster from top to bottom. It may be a little more youthful. But on the positive side, now we get to retain a lot more people than a lot of other programs are retaining.”

    Hurley sticks to a winning formula developed in his basketball lab over the years. Purposeful recruiting decisions and player development are at the heart of his team’s success as is maintaining a strong core.

    This off-season is no different.

    “What we’ve done is similar to what we’ve done in the last two years, probably more similar to last year, we’re banking heavily on player development,” Hurley said. “And we’ve gone for strategic maneuvers based on players that we believe can really come here and thrive and play great.”

    Jaylin Stewart, Jayden Ross, Solo Ball and Youssouf Singare fit into that player development category. They gained valuable experience as freshmen and learned the Hurley Way.

    Hurley is counting on those players making a big jump from their freshmen to sophomore years.

    He’s also betting heavily on incoming freshmen Ahmad Nowell, a guard, forwards Isaiah Abraham and Liam McNeeley contributing next season.

    “We really believe in the young players that we have in the program and that we’ve recruited and we want them to get on the court and play,” Hurley said. “Solo Ball, Jaylin Stewart, Jayden Ross, Youssouf, we’re going to return four members of one of the best recruiting classes in the country. And this year’s recruiting class with the three freshmen, it’s a top class.

    “So we believe that these guys are very talented.”

    Guard Aidan Mahaney (Saint Mary’s) and center Tarris Reed Jr. (Michigan), recruited out of the transfer portal this spring, are expected to be impact newcomers.

    Transfers, like Cam Spencer, Tristen Newton, Nahiem Alleyne, Joey Calcaterra, played vital roles in UConn’s last two national championship runs.

    The UConn coaching staff takes into account more than talent while recruiting transfers, weeding out any player if his focus is Name, Image and Likeness and not winning.

    “Players in the portal, we’re looking for people that hit those thresholds in terms of talent and traits aesthetically, but then they’ve got to be our type of people,” Hurley said. “They have to be people that we think are going to help us win, not necessarily who someone is ranking as the best transfer in the country.

    “... The way that we’re landing our players gives us confidence that we have a chance to keep doing what we’re doing, both with transfers and guys like Liam.”

    The Huskies suffered significant losses with the departure of Newton, Spencer, Clingan and Stephon Castle. Karaban, another starter, is testing the NBA Draft waters while retaining his eligibility. All five starters have been invited to participate in the NBA Draft Combine, which runs May 12-19 in Chicago.

    Karaban will likely leave UConn if he’s projected to be a first round pick.

    Hurley already is considering some options to fill the scholarship opening if Karaban turns pro.

    “The Alex situation is just a total win-win in terms of what happens,” Hurley said. “You lay some groundwork potentially with the situation in case Alex does end up going, you obviously have some contingencies that you prepare for that way.”

    Hurley is happy with his versatile roster as it stands right now. Veterans Hassan Diarra and Samson Johnson are poised to take on bigger leadership roles.

    “Right now, we feel like what we’ve put together is exactly what we imagined what it would look like,” Hurley said.

    The coaching staff’s spring recruiting haul of McNeeley, Mahaney and Reed filled all the team’s needs.

    McNeeley is a five-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American out of powerhouse Montverde Academy in Florida.

    “He’s coming in here with advanced maturity and the pedigree, not only there with Montverde but also the family with generations of basketball players,” Hurley said. “It prepares you differently.”

    Reed’s addition gives UConn another one-two punch at center, as the Michigan transfer joins a center rotation with Johnson. He studied tape of former Husky Adama Sanogo’s game last season.

    “When you meet him, you’re just blown away with his physical size,” Hurley said. “He’s a massive man with great athletic ability. I know (assistant coach) Luke (Murray) and our staff are excited to get to work with him. He’s just scratching the surface of what he can be.”

    Hurley gained a high level of respect for Mahaney from preparing to face Saint Mary’s in the 2023 NCAA tournament. Mahaney shares some similarities with Spencer and Newton as far as his shooting, creativity and mentality.

    “When he experienced the UConn intensity on the visit, how much we loved what we do and how hard we get after here, and he was dying to be a part of it,” Hurley said. “That told us this is the type of guy that can come in here and thrive.”

    National championships are not decided in May.

    The work begins in early June when the Huskies return to campus for the first summer session.

    “All these guys are going to get an opportunity to play,” Hurley said. “But the competition is going to be the best it’s been overall, and that’s saying something here.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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