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    Tuesday, July 16, 2024

    UConn’s Karaban relieved to have decision to return behind him

    Alex Karaban listens to reporters during the 2024 NBA Draft Combine in Chicago on May 14. Karaban made the decision Wednesday to return to UConn, removing his name from draft consideration. (Nam Y. Huh/AP Photo)
    UConn head coach Dan Hurley, left, celebrates with forward Alex Karaban after their win against Purdue in the national championship game April 8 in Glendale, Ariz. (David J. Phillip/AP Photo)

    Alex Karaban is feeling much better now that decision day is finally over, lifting an enormous weight off his chest.

    After a stressful few weeks, Karaban can completely focus on preparing for his redshirt junior season as a member of the UConn men’s basketball team.

    “I’m beyond excited,” Karaban said during a Zoom session on Thursday. “I can’t wait. I think next week I’ll be back on campus. Then I’ll hit the ground running. I know how special a program this is, I know how special the fans are here. It’s a blessing to even put on the jersey for at least another year.”

    A 6-foot-8 forward, Karaban was anything but excited about deciding whether to keep his name in the NBA Draft or return to school and try to win the program’s third straight national championship.

    He didn’t finally make up his mind until Wednesday, the deadline day for informing the NBA about his plans.

    “The past two weeks have been stressful,” Karaban said. “It was hard on me just because I was going back and forth every day. ... It was messing me up a lot because some days I thought I was going to be a UConn Husky and some days I thought I was going to be an NBA player. And day to day it seemed it changed.

    “It was not a fun time these past two weeks just deciding what to do. It was a hard decision. … I had the gut feeling going back was the better option for me and I know it will pay off, too.”

    Karaban received valuable input from professional teams while going through the pre-draft process. He performed well at the pre-draft combine in Chicago earlier this month and worked out for two teams, Portland and Boston.

    Projected to be a second-round draft pick at best, Karaban opted to return to Storrs to work on his game and improve his draft stock for next year.

    “I thought it would be best for me to go back and prove myself another year and really take steps forward and solidify myself as a first-rounder, which I know I am,” Karaban said. “The (UConn) coaches truly believe in my skills and they truly know that I can level up this coming season. And they know I’m capable of being so much of a better player and having a bigger role for next year’s team to where I think I really wanted to bet on myself.”

    As you might imagine, coach Dan Hurley was quite happy when Karaban gave him the good news.

    “He was just ecstatic,” Karaban said. “He always thought going back was the best decision for me, too. He was just excited that he thought I made the right choice for myself and just already telling me what I’ve got to improve and what he’s going to be on me about during this upcoming season.”

    Karaban has a list of things that he wants to work on.

    Movement shooting is an area that he plans to target as well as improving his defense and continuing to get stronger and quicker.

    Karaban, who will be the lone returning starter next season, will take on a bigger leadership role and be one of the faces of the program.

    A three-peat is on his mind.

    “Going for the three-peat is the No. 1 goal, and I think we’re more than capable of doing that,” Karaban said. “Right now, with what the coaches have built up, national championships are the expectation. Of course, going for another is definitely the goal and I think we can do it.”

    It will be a challenge with UConn losing four starters, increasing roles for returning veterans and heavily relying on newcomers.

    Karaban believes transfers Tarris Reed Jr. (Michigan) and Aidan Mahaney (Saint Mary’s) will fit right in. And he’s heard good things about the incoming freshman class.

    “I’ve been talking to my teammates ever since I decided to come back and the first name that they bring up is always Liam (McNeeley) and just how special he is and how he knows the game. I know based on that he’s going to have a great freshmen year and he’ll be one of the best freshmen this season.”

    Karaban plans on being one of the best players in the country. He’s been overlooked when it comes to awards, especially in the Big East.

    He intends on changing that.

    “I’ve always felt like I’ve been underappreciated whether that was in high school or during my first two years at UConn,” Karaban said. I just want to prove myself and really showcase my talent this season.

    “I think I truly believe I can take a big jump this season. I know the coaches believe that, too.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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