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Hurley evaluating the steps UConn must take next

Dan Hurley had no desire to watch the NCAA tournament on Sunday, the day after UConn's season-ending loss.

He was still in mourning.

All the UConn basketball coach could think about was the last 45 minutes, seven seconds of the season.

That represents the final 5:07 of a Big East tournament semifinal loss to Creighton during which UConn led 53-48 before stumbling down the stretch and the entire 40 minutes of a disappointing performance in a 63-54 loss to Maryland in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

Overall, the Huskies made progress, returning to the postseason for the first time in five years. But ...

"You feel great about the steps that we took this year as a program, but that last 45 minutes and seven seconds of game play eats away at you as a coach and player if that's the last thing you did on the floor," Hurley said.

Hurley mentioned that 45:07 at least eight times during a 32-minute Zoom call with the media on Friday.

And expect to hear it again during the offseason and into next season. You might even see it on practice gear and t-shirts.

"All I have in my brain is 45:07," Hurley said. "It's etched in my brain. The last 45 minutes and seven seconds of game play should push and drive every member of this organization in the offseason — coaches with what they're doing on the court with players, or recruiting, or players in terms of their development and their commitment. The last 45 minutes, seven seconds is not who we want to be.

"That should drive all of us to push ourselves to deliver better next season and next March."

On Monday, Hurley met with his team, telling them to take a week to decompress, rest, let the emotion and fatigue leave their bodies and clear their minds. They'll gather again next week.

Hurley and his staff have already started to prepare for next season, evaluating what went well, what the team can build on and what the Huskies need to do better.

"In college basketball coaching, you go from one season to another," he said. "Now we go into the most critical season of all, which is recruiting and player development. For us to continue to move this thing forward back to where UConn belongs, you've got to keep taking steps like we did this year."

The roster already is changing.

Brendan Adams and Josh Carlton decided earlier this week to enter the transfer portal and finish their college basketball careers elsewhere as graduate transfers. Hurley expressed his appreciation for their efforts on the court and in the classroom and wished them the best.

More moves are expected.

Sophomore guard James Bouknight will likely enter his name in the NBA Draft pool. He's had several discussions with Hurley since the season ended.

"We've done a lot of reflecting on the end of the season and just in general having a conversation," Hurley said. "Probably seen him more since the season's over than I did really throughout the year. ... James is feeling the disappointment of the way the season ended for us but feels really good about what we accomplished while he was here.

"For him, if you're a lottery pick and you're able to accomplish that in two years, that's a pretty hard thing to turn down."

Seniors Isaiah Whaley and Tyler Polley, two key contributors to Hurley's rebuilding project, have important decisions to make about their futures. Their options are to return for their extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the pandemic, try to play professionally or play a grad transfer year somewhere else.

Hurley says he would welcome both back.

"It's open-ended for them," said Hurley. "Part of it is to see what the professional market is for both of those guys. I think you've got to take some time and talk to agents, seeing what would potentially be out there for them based on production, performance, reputation. We can help those guys and the families with that.

"This isn't an easy thing. Players in their position would normally try to catch on with the G-League or potentially head overseas. Everything with the economy and COVID, that's certainly has changed some of the landscape for opportunities."

Not counting Whaley and Polley, UConn will have seven players returning to go along with a top 10 recruiting class.

Hurley and his staff will look to add talent via recruiting the high school ranks and exploring the transfer market. They need to upgrade their offensive skill level, Hurley said.

While there's always a chance another player could elect to transfer, Hurley is optimistic about the roster remaining stable.

"In today's day and age, you can sound like a bozo in an hour, but I feel pretty good," Hurley said. "You've got Isaiah and Tyler, they're in a separate category. We've got the seven guys here, the non-seniors, that we're at the player development, here's what we've got to do to take the next step. You've got the three really talented guys coming in and then you have the open scholarships where for us it's (about) versatility and skill and shooting. And then somebody obviously has got to fit into our culture, which is a critical part of winning.

"The only thing any of us are thinking right now, the staff is thinking about recruiting and player development ... and 45:07."


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