STORRS - Not all the members of the 2018-19 UConn menâ€™s basketball team are playing for Coach Hurley for the first time.
Unlike the rest of the Huskies, Tarin Smith has been through this before, sort of.
Smith played for Bob Hurley Sr. at St. Anthony High in Jersey City, New Jersey, and after transferring from Duquesne in the offseason, is playing for first-year UConn head coach Dan Hurley. He is the first - and will be the last - to play for both men.
The 6-foot-2 guard, who began his collegiate career at Nebraska, has already seen the similarities between the two coaches during the Huskiesâ€™ summer workouts.
â€śItâ€™s similar in ways and different in other ways,â€ť Smith said. â€śYou see some of the similarities in terms of intensity and what he demands as far as pace and demanding greatness on every play.â€ť
The two men arenâ€™t carbon copies of each other, of course. Dan Hurley might be even more intense than his father.
â€śItâ€™s definitely a little different,â€ť Smith said. â€śBut itâ€™s an intense atmosphere, the way we compete in a daily basis.â€ť
As much as Smith prepped some of the Huskies for what playing for Hurley would be like, the new UConn coach is counting on Smith to help him toughen the Huskies up a bit.
Dan Hurley has said, not without evidence, that the Huskiesâ€™ â€ślooked softâ€ť in many instances last season. One of the steps Hurley took to increase UConnâ€™s toughness level was simply to add some tougher players.
Smith, freshman guard Brendan Adams, and St. Johnâ€™s graduate transfer Kassoum Yakwe fit that bill, Hurley and the coaching staff believe.
Smith, who averaged 12.4 points, 3.2 assists and 3.0 rebounds last season as a senior at Duquesne and was named the Atlantic-10â€™s sixth man of the year, is renowned for his dedication and work ethic. Hurley is obviously hoping it rubs off on the rest of the roster.
But recruiting and speeches alone are not enough to toughen a team up. So what is Hurley doing in order to make UConn tough?
â€śA lot of it are the drills that you do, the pace and tempo you practice at,â€ť Hurley said. â€śThis time of year, not calling a lot of fouls. Just making guys compete and play through contact.â€ť
There is also a major emphasis on re-establishing a winning culture around the program. Everything this summer is seemingly a competition for the Huskies, from running sprints to grabbing rebounds to eating vegetables.
â€śPit player against player and team against team in a hyper-competitive environment,â€ť Hurley said in describing his approach. â€śAnd stay on them about competing and being mentally tough and physically tough.â€ť
The coaching staff has already seen some signs of improvement in the players through the first few weeks of summer workouts. Smith can be given a small piece of the credit, perhaps, though it appears most of the players are embracing Hurleyâ€™s approach.
â€śI think everybody is adapting to it and buying into the process of what coach is bringing to the program,â€ť guard Jalen Adams said.
Said Hurley: â€śI think weâ€™re making some progress just in the areas that we kind of identified that we want to improve in: getting more competitive, play more physically, just be tougher, play harder. Not so much focus necessarily on implementing a style of play besides just kind of learning how to play really, really hard.â€ť
It seems there arenâ€™t a lot of Xâ€™s and Oâ€™s being drawn up during practice these days. Itâ€™s about effort inside the Werth Center at this point.
â€śThere arenâ€™t a lot of tactical things weâ€™re talking about with them right now,â€ť Hurley said.
UConn, coming off consecutive losing seasons, could use some help before plays are drawn up, Hurley says.
â€śWe have a real good understanding of what guysâ€™ skill sets are. This is just about developing a mindset of how we want to compete, and building a togetherness with the group,â€ť Hurley said. â€śThose things are eroded just a little bit.â€ť
To that end, Hurley has begun something of a book club with the team. They are reading â€śChop Wood, Carry Water: How to Fall in Love With the Process of Becoming Greatâ€ť on their own then coming together to discuss it.
It hasnâ€™t exactly come from the book, but Hurleyâ€™s message is simple, and probably similar to his fatherâ€™s.
â€śWinning has to be what drives you, not what you get from winning,â€ť Hurley said.