Hurley still likes where the Huskies are headed

Mystic — Dan Hurley says it feels more like his type of basketball team every day.

The commitment is there, so is the work ethic.

The Huskies have made considerable progress since Hurley took over the UConn basketball program in March of 2018.

"You have more people who know what you expect...," Hurley said. "Both players and staff, they understand my expectations and understand the way we want to do things. The culture that I want to instill has been established now.

"Obviously, you're adding talent. Everything is moving forward."

Hurley is in the early stages of Year Two of his rebuilding job in Storrs. He talked about the state of the program on Tuesday while attending UConn Coaches Road Show at Latitude 41 in Mystic, the first stop of this week's tour. He was joined by fellow coaches Randy Edsall (football), Geno Auriemma (women's basketball), Nancy Stevens (field hockey) and Mike Cavanaugh (hockey).

It's taken time, countless relationship-building chats with his players and plenty of hard work for Hurley to push his program forward. The Huskies were a more competitive team last season despite finishing with a 16-17 record.

His expectations remain the same — return the program to elite status.

"I'm following two national championship coaches," said Hurley, referring to Kevin Ollie and Jim Calhoun. "Everyone has their program style, how they like to build and what they want their day to day to look like.

"For me, I'm kind of a program guy. I'm a day to day, grind it out work ethic, grow as a team, improve as individuals. That should reflect on academic performance, reflect on just how often guys are in the facility training.

"I'm a demanding guy to play for. You've got to love the game and love to be part of a team if you want to be part of what I do."

The fact that Hurley hasn't had any players transfer is a sign they're buying into his system.

Hurley is doing his part on the recruiting trail, upgrading the roster with some potential impact players.

Forward Akok Akok, guards James Bouknight and Jalen Gaffney are the newest recruits. Guard RJ Cole is a talented transfer that will sit out a season before becoming eligible.

"We've been able to add just quality pieces, guys that have the skill set, the talent...," Hurley said. "You're talking about four guys, when they've gone through the development process and are mature together, they're guys that should be playing very prominent roles on championship-level teams.

"The scholarships right now, for us, it's very important that with each of them that we get really value and a high-quality rotation player at the minimum, if not high impact players."

Akok, a 6-foot-9 forward out of Putnam Science Academy, is an intriguing player. He practiced with the Huskies as a walk-on during the second semester.

His three-point shooting, shot blocking ability and overall athleticism will help the Huskies.

"He acclimated well," Hurley said. "It's an adjustment for all these guys. He's a really talented guy. He's a very, very smart guy. We're building a relationship and we're building trust. He lives in the gym. It's about him getting physically strong enough so he can take advantage of his athleticism and his instincts on defense."

Hurley expects his returning players to make an improvement from last year. He thinks forward Isaiah Whaley, who played sparingly last year, can help in a reserve role.

Injury-prone Alterique Gilbert is healthy again and ready to take another step forward.

"The thing that we keep preaching is big jump," Hurley said. "Like Josh (Carlton) improved a lot and made a jump, we need a bigger jump from him. Tyler (Polley) showed improvement, we need a bigger jump.

"... My challenge to Al is, you know what it is now and you went through a season, get back to being Al. Be like one of the best point guards in the country this year. ... If he does that, then we'll take another step as a program."

Hurley also made a plea to the UConn fan base. The Huskies need their support during the rebuilding process, he said.

"UConn is a unique program," Hurley said. "You can't let the last couple of years that have been a struggle have a negative affect on where it's headed. ... Our future is bright. They've got to trust me in the process. This is what I do. I'm going to build a championship level, sustainable program for UConn. We need their support now."

g.keefe@theday.com


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