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These UConn freshmen have 'wall potential'

Wall potential.

That’s a phrase that UConn coach Dan Hurley uses to describe the talent of freshmen Samson Johnson and Jordan Hawkins.

Hurley projects that both newcomers could eventually earn a place on the wall of the program’s practice facility wall along with the banners honoring UConn’s NBA Draft lottery picks.

So they have “wall potential.”

Time will tell if the duo is worthy of that lofty status.

Hurley isn’t the first and won’t be the last college basketball coach to rave about his recruits. Recruiting experts give Hurley’s freshman class of Johnson, Hawkins, Rahsool Diggins and Corey Floyd Jr., high marks.

On Wednesday morning, Hurley talked about a variety of UConn basketball-related topics at the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce virtual breakfast.

Hurley believes Johnson and Hawkins may only be in the program for a few years before moving on to the NBA.

They’ve made a strong impression since arriving on campus this summer.

“Those guys look really, really good,” Hurley said. “You look at them and you project guys in the next couple recruiting classes, maybe in 2023 or 2024, that you know you need to bring in because you don’t think you’re going to get a full four years with either of those two guys.

“They’re so talented and they have so many traits that project to the NBA level, athletically and from a skill standpoint. They’re going to have a chance to make a big impact. ... Both of those guys have potential to get on the lottery wall here.”

A 6-foot-5 guard, Hawkins has a better shot at making an impact sooner than Johnson, a 6-10 forward, due to the roster makeup.

The Huskies have an opening in the backcourt after losing star guard James Bouknight, a lottery pick selection in 2021 NBA Draft, but less playing time is available in a crowded, veteran frontcourt.

Hawkins has the skill-set to contribute in a variety of ways.

“Jordan is incredibly dynamic as a shooter,” Hurley said. “I don’t know all the history, but going back to Ray (Allen) and Rip (Hamilton), I don’t know if there is a guy with the footwork in terms of coming off screens and getting into shots quickly with elevation and how smooth he’s able to do it.”

Hurley has been impressed with Johnson since watching the forward play at The Patrick School in Hillside, N.J.

“Samson is what you would hope your stretch four man to look like,” Hurley said. "He’ll eventually be able to guard all five positions. He’s eventually going to be a competent to good 3-point shooter. The stuff he does above the rim, with his cutting and ball screen game, is elite.”

A bruised knee has set back Dawkins, a confident 6-2 guard from Philadelphia. He’s been limited and missed some time since suffering the injury within the first practice or two.

“He really hasn’t had a chance to really do much with us when the real stuff started,” Hurley said. “He showed flashes of his ability during the summer but he just hasn’t been really healthy since we’ve really gotten into it here in October. … He’s going to be a really, really good player for us. You can see it even though he’s been out.”

Barring a change in plans, Floyd will work on developing his game this season and play a significant role next season. Only 17, he’s still on the young side.

Hurley has been amazed by the way Floyd has seamlessly fit in practicing with a veteran team.

“He’s 17 years old practicing against 22 year olds,” Hurley said. “He’s improved so much since he’s been here. He’s going to be an outstanding player for us over the course of his career here.” 

A few other interesting tidbits from Hurley’s chat:

• UConn’s backcourt rotation should be clearer after two closed-door scrimmages, including one against Harvard on Saturday, in the next two weeks. Hurley has yet to name a starter to play alongside point guard R.J Cole. Hawkins and junior Jalen Gaffney are two prime candidates.

“He’s one of a couple of guys competing to potentially start on the perimeter,” Hurley said of Gaffney. “That will play itself out all the way through the next two weekends. We’ll know our direction at that point.”

• Redshirt junior Akok Akok continues to look good during practice. He’s finally fully recovered from a ruptured Achilles tendon suffered in February, 2020. He was limited to 30 minutes of action last season.

“Akok is coming off probably the best that he’s looked for us in an intrasquad scrimmage that we ran at the XL Center the other day with referees. It was the most game-like conditions that we’ve had. He looked good. He made a 3 and finished around the rim.”

“Akok will be better than he was just that second year removed from major surgery.”

Hurley added that Akok could play starter’s minutes.

• Hurley’s reaction to UConn being ranked 24th in the Associated Press Top 25 poll that was released on Monday: “It helps in terms of just another reason for there to be enthusiasm surrounding the program. It’s great to generate that preseason buzz. It’s going to help early crowds.

“We want to play in front of sellouts all year. We think there’s a great chance we can pull it off because our great fans here have missed the game experience so much in person. And it certainly helps in recruiting.”

g.keefe@theday.com

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