Hurley's passion is already on display with UConn men's basketball

Published on Thursday, 31 May 2018 19:41
Written by Neill Ostrout

Journal Inquirer

EAST HARTFORD - For a program that is used to having a firebrand as its head coach, Dan Hurley’s style is unlikely to come as a shock to UConn basketball fans.

But for the current Husky players, none of who were in Storrs when Jim Calhoun was in charge, the new UConn head coach may bring a shock to their system.

The Huskies will begin offseason workouts in earnest next week, and Hurley expects his new players to be shocked.

“We’re about to get after it on Monday, probably at a level that’s going to be uncomfortable at times for them as they adjust to the intensity level that my teams work at,” Hurley said Wednesday night before an event for fans at Pratt & Whitney Stadium. “It’s different. It’s like Oregon in football or something, the pace of my practices. It’s something you have to adjust to.”

Hurley, who was hired just over two months ago to replace the fired Kevin Ollie, appeared at the Huskies’ football stadium Wednesday for a “Happy Hour” event with the public.

As if to highlight his no-nonsense style, the coach even got into a playful spat with a member of the audience.

While trying to describe his emotional style during games, Hurley heard a few muffled words from the back of the crowd.

“Hey, there’s a lot of muttering over there,” Hurley said, drawing a few laughs from the crowd.

“You’ve got faults, too!” he said to the fan, a wide grin on his face. “We’re all just trying to get better.”

That’s certainly what Hurley is trying to do with the Huskies. Coming off back-to-back losing seasons - something not seen since Calhoun’s arrival in 1986 - Hurley has talked openly about changing the culture at UConn.

“It’s tough to be a men’s basketball player coming off the two seasons that these guys have gone through here,” Hurley said. “It’s hard walking around campus. It’s hard having a lot of confidence and feeling good about wearing UConn men’s basketball across your chest when you’re part of a couple of the worst seasons in the last 25, 30 years.”

In addition to working the players intensely on the court, Hurley talked about building them up emotionally and returning some of their confidence.

“Fortunately for me I’ve been through this process two other times, at Wagner and then at Rhode Island. The healing, the rebuilding the organization, starting something from a struggling point, getting the buy-in from the players, putting a great staff together, just kind of fixing things that are broken in and around the program,” Hurley said. “This is the third time. I kind of had a plan coming in.”

Hurley said he believes he’s already addressed some of the team’s needs with the coaches and support staff he’s hired, as well as with the three recruits he’s added.

And he makes it clear what the first goals are for the Huskies in the upcoming 2018-19 season.

“Try to be better than we’ve been the last couple of years and try to get some credibility back on the national landscape of college basketball,” Hurley said.

Roster set?

Hurley is barred from commenting on recruits until they’ve signed paperwork with the school, but it appears the Huskies are out of the running to land Mustapha Heron.

The Waterbury native is transferring from Auburn to be closer to his mother in Connecticut.

UConn currently does not have a scholarship available, which obviously complicated those who expected Heron to land with the Huskies.

Hurley said Wednesday that his team’s 2018-19 roster has likely been finalized.

“Obviously college basketball is fluid with the amount of transfers you get every year, but I feel like this is probably the 13 we’re going to be going with,” Hurley said.

UConn’s 10 returning players will be joined by fifth-year transfers Tarin Smith (Duquesne) and Kassoum Yakwe (St. John’s), as well as Baltimore-area high school standout Brendan Adams.

“We wanted to get out of the late signing period as effectively and efficiently as we could,” Hurley said. “I thought we were able to do that with those three guys.

“Our emphasis is 2019-2020 recruiting. It’s huge for this program to get the quality talent and character that led this program to the great heights it’s been at.”

An emotional good-bye

Kevin Freeman is departing the UConn program, leaving his post as director of basketball administration for an assistant coach job at Penn State.

Even though Hurley only worked alongside Freeman for a few months, the former says he will be missed greatly.

“What an incredible ambassador he has been and will continue to be for UConn,” Hurley said.

Hurley said he first interacted with Freeman when a young Freeman was playing for Paterson Catholic in New Jersey against his dad’s team at St. Anthony’s in the mid-1990s.

“This is a guy who deserves advancement in his career. If anyone does in this business, it’s him,” Hurley said. “I think he’s going to be an amazing coach in college.”

An impact hire

UConn made what Hurley called an “impact” hire with the addition of Sal Alosi to the program. Alosi was hired Wednesday as director of human performance, a position that encompasses the duties of what most programs refer to as a strength coach.

“His personality as a coach and the standards he sets for our program right now is pretty good fit,” Hurley said. “I think we were a team that wasn’t very physical last year, probably a little bit soft at times.”

Alosi, 41, is a native of Massapequa, New York, has made waves in a few of his last few jobs.

While the strength and conditioning coach of the New York Jets in 2010 he tripped a Dolphins player while he ran close to the sidelines trying to cover a punt.

And while serving in the same capacity with the UCLA football team in 2015, Alosi got into a confrontation with rapper and music mogul Sean “P. Diddy” Combs over the treatment of Combs’ son, a UCLA player.

“Some things in his career that he addressed with us when we brought him in and met with him,” Hurley said. “I felt comfortable that this was a guy that’s experienced a lot of things, like we all have, and has learned a great deal from his experiences.”

In between his stings with the Jets and the Bruins, Alosi was the head strength and conditioning coach for Bryant University’s athletic department.

“This is a guys that is going to bring a ton of intensity and toughness,” Hurley said.

Pitch imperfect

Hurley is set to throw out the first pitch before the Mets-Cubs game Sunday at Citi Field. He said he got some advice, sort of, from his brother Bobby.

Bobby Hurley threw out the first pitch before a Diamondbacks game not long after being hired as the head coach at Arizona State.

“He said he was scared like you wouldn’t believe,” Hurley said. “That made me a little nervous.”

Posted in New Britain Herald, UConn on Thursday, 31 May 2018 19:41. Updated: Thursday, 31 May 2018 19:44.