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    Tuesday, July 16, 2024

    Hurley talks about his decision to stay at UConn

    In this Nov. 14, 2023, file photo, UConn head coach Dan Hurley smiles at an official in a game against Mississippi Valley State in Hartford. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
    In this April 8 file photo, UConn head coach Dan Hurley hugs forward Alex Karaban during the Final Four championship game against Purdue in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

    Storrs — Torn about the biggest decision of his coaching life, Dan Hurley reached out to Alex Karaban on Sunday.

    Hurley’s strong connection with his players is at heart of the UConn basketball program’s success.

    So it makes sense that Hurley would ask Karaban, who recently decided to return for his redshirt junior season after testing the NBA Draft waters, for advice about whether to stay in Storrs or take the Los Angeles Lakers head coaching job.

    The call caught Karaban, who was playing the NBA 2K video game at the time, off guard.

    “I was like, why is Coach calling me?” Karaban said on Thursday. “I didn’t know if he decided and I didn’t know what was happening. … I’m just so thankful he called me. He opened up to me about everything and really just talked to me.

    “It really speaks to the relationship that we have and really speaks to the trust that he has in me. .... He was gathering my thoughts about how I felt about him considering (the Lakers) and how the team was feeling. Really just trying to make sure the team was in a good head space. … We just had a good conversation.”

    The next day, Hurley met with his team at the Werth Center and announced that he’s committed to remaining in charge of the men’s basketball program.

    Hurley admits that he was tempted to take the Lakers job and a six-year, $70 million contract offer. Once a New Jersey high school coach and history teacher, Hurley was flattered that one of the most storied franchises in sports valued him.

    His wife Andrea reacted with anger and then tears after learning about the Lakers pursuing her husband. A New Jersey native, her desire was to stay close to family and friends.

    “She wasn’t happy about it,” Hurley said during a press conference at the Werth Center. “We all love it here. When you love it and you’re so happy, you don’t want that type of disruption, especially one that’s special like the Lakers. If it was a lesser opportunity, she wouldn’t have reacted so emotionally. Then we handled it like adults. We considered it and weighed it and took the trip (to Los Angeles).”

    In the end, Hurley’s decision basically came down to his family and the UConn basketball family.

    “There’s just too many reasons to be here at UConn once you think it all the way through and go through the whole process…,” Hurley said “There’s so many things that go through your mind.

    “It’s your family. It’s where you’re best suited to be as a coach. It’s the business side. It’s your loyalty to players like Alex, or the players that came in here and that believe in what we do. It’s the relationship that you have with people in Connecticut and the way they embraced me when I got here and treated me so great as we built this thing.

    “So many things. Your mind just raced the whole time. You sit down in the end with Andrea and our sons Danny and Andrew. As we got to Sunday night, it was pretty clear and then you sleep on it. … It’s a combination of what your mind and heart tell you to do and what’s best for your family, and just where do you belong at this point.”

    Hurley obviously decided he belongs at UConn, where he’s preparing to begin his seventh season. The Huskies have dominated the college basketball world, posting a 68-11 overall record and winning two national titles during the last two seasons.

    After Monday’s emotional team meeting, the Huskies went back to work, ending a gut-wrenching stretch that started on Thursday when the news about the Lakers broke.

    “We’re all just so happy that he’s back,” Karaban said. “My stomach was dropping in the beginning, just not knowing what he was going to do. When he said he was coming back, we were all so happy. We all started clapping. We were hugging him.

    “We were celebrating because we knew how important of a decision it was. All of us are here, the main reason is for coach Hurley. We’re all just happy that we got to stick together and play under him.”

    From the beginning, the UConn players supported Hurley checking out the NBA job. They were prepared for their passionate head coach to leave. Over the weekend, they had a couple players only meetings to talk about the topic.

    Veteran guard Hassan Diarra never doubted that Hurley would stick with the Huskies, who are coming off winning back-to-back national championships for the first time in program history.

    “In my gut, I knew he would stay,” Diarra said. “I knew he didn’t want to leave us. He loves us too much.”

    UConn will show its love to Hurley in the near future by replacing his current deal with a new contract. Last June, Hurley signed a six-year, $32.1 extension that runs through the 2028-29 season.

    Hurley said that the financial terms already have been worked out. Details regarding staff, Name Image and Likeness and buyout terms still need to be worked out. He emphasized that he didn’t use the Los Angeles offer as leverage.

    “Hopefully, we’ll be able to finalize something that way soon and get the whole contract done,” Hurley said. “But I’m flattered by what (athletic director) Dave (Benedict) has put in front of me. I think it’s very fair.”

    Hurley has shifted his focus back to what he does best, and that’s coaching college players and building strong bonds with them.

    He admitted that he was off his coaching game during workouts last week due to the distractions. That’s not the case anymore.

    “I was on point today,” Hurley said. “The new guys got a really good sense of what it is like to play here now. I was on a six, 6.5 today on a 10 scale. It’s a lot of relief and you feel a lot lighter. It was great to get out and recruit (this week) and to get in here and get back to work and focus on what we’re doing.”

    Hurley looks forward to continuing to make impact.

    “I’ve got a chance to coach 18, 19, 20 years old kids that you can really help change their lives. ... You get the top sports competition but you also get the fulfillment, too, which goes through your mind a lot.”

    g.keefe@theday.com

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