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Vital looks back on his UConn career

Christian Vital has a plethora of fascinating stories to tell about his UConn basketball career.

A great deal happened during a crazy ride that featured more turmoil than triumph at times.

Vital arrived in Storrs almost a forgotten member of a highly-regarded recruiting class and through sheer will, hard work, determination and a fierce competitive spirit built a terrific career while helping to lift the program back to respectability.

Along the way, Vital endured a coaching change, personal struggles — nearly deciding to transfer at one low point — and three straight losing seasons. He also rammed heads with coach Dan Hurley before forging a close relationship.

To top it off, while enjoying a career best senior season and about to lead the Huskies on a postseason run, everything came to a stunning end for Vital in March. The coronavirus pandemic also robbed him of an on-campus graduation ceremony. But he's happy that
he's set a good example for his younger siblings by earning a degree.

"If you look at our season with everything that went on in the program, you wouldn't believe it..," Vital said. "There was just so much going on. And right as you think that we're about to make a run to finally get in the (NCAA) tournament for the first time in like four years — way too long — and just to have it shut down because of something literally out of your control, it definitely woke me up.

"You realize a lot of things aren't in your control. You realize you're only human. It was just unfortunate."

During a conference call on Tuesday, Vital spoke about his career and future plans. He's in Louisville where he's working out and preparing for the NBA Draft. He left his home in Queens Village, N.Y., over a month ago.

For the most part, Vital accomplished his mission at UConn, leaving the program in better shape than when he arrived from St. Thomas More in 2016. The Huskies finished with 19 wins overall, the most since the 2015-16 season.

As a fiery team leader, Vital had a profound impact on the culture and character of the team.

He accomplished a lot despite regularly dealing with adversity. He finished 10th all-time in scoring at UConn, second in 3-pointers made, fifth in 3-pointers made per game and fifth in free throw percentage. He's also the all-time American Athletic Conference leader in 3-pointers made, third in scoring, third in steals and fourth in free throws made.

He also learned some important life lessons.

"Just a lot went on at UConn, which is really crazy," Vital said. "To look back at it and understand that I was in the middle of all that and that I left it better than the situation that I was in (at the start), it just shows if you work hard, you'll get in a better spot."

Vital firmly believes the Huskies were poised to do something special when the season ended.

From his early days at UConn until his last game, Vital never wavered from his goal of wanting to help the Huskies raise a fifth national championship banner. He planned on leading his team all the way to Atlanta, the host city of the Final Four.

"If you were watching those games through the last month, you could see the magic starting to happen...," Vital said. "As far as getting the program back, I think we were really close to that. We were winning that championship. ... Everyone knows how UConn stories go (in March). Not to compare us because we weren't able to finish it, so we'll never know. That's just something we have to live with. It is what it is. I can't change it."

Vital will never forget the day that his UConn basketball world stopped spinning.

It was March 12.

Vital woke up the morning of UConn's AAC first round game in Fort Worth, Texas, and started going about his normal game day routine. Then he turned on ESPN and saw that Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz contracted the coronavirus. And then the NBA halted its season.

"I knew it was a wrap," Vital said of his season. "I didn't want to believe it. My mind told me that the season is over. If LeBron and everyone else isn't playing basketball, Christian isn't going to be playing basketball.

"It was just messed up. It was just crazy that our season ended. We put so much into it. This virus has affected a lot of people unfortunately."

After being ticked off about it for a couple of weeks, Vital finally came to grips with the reality of the situation.

Vital has complete faith that his now former teammates will continue to elevate the program. He looks forward to watching his basketball brothers play.

"The team is going to take it to a whole other level next year," Vital said. "What we were able to do this year to start the resurgence, that's something I won't take credit for but I'll definitely take pride in being a part of, for sure."

When asked what he wants to be remembered for, Vital responded:  "A guy who could be a difference, who wasn't the most talented, who knew he needed to improve and was just a good dude to be around. ... A guy who wanted to compete as well, every single day."

g.keefe@theday.com

 

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