Dan Hurley has been looking for what he calls small victories as he tries to bring the UConn menâ€™s basketball program back to its glory days.
Returning to the Big East Conference, which became official Wednesday, was not one of those, the coach said.
It was better.
â€śGoing back to the Big East wasnâ€™t a small win. It was a huge win,â€ť Hurley said Wednesday evening on a Zoom call with reporters. â€śIt brings UConn basketball back to its identity.â€ť
Hurleyâ€™s Huskies, along with the majority of the schoolâ€™s athletic programs, officially left the American Athletic Conference and became members of the Big East on Wednesday. They will begin, COVID-19 restrictions permitting, competing in the league this fall.
â€śItâ€™s another infusion of energy that gets added to the momentum,â€ť Hurley said. â€śObviously it had impact in recruiting. It definitely played a role in Andre Jacksonâ€™s recruitment.â€ť
UConn will play 20 conference games in menâ€™s basketball in the upcoming season, competitions that Hurley is apparently looking forward to quite eagerly. Hurley, who played in the league at Seton Hall and coached in the league as an assistant at Rutgers, believes he has a good idea of what life will be like back in the conference.
â€śWeâ€™re not going to have to create that atmosphere, because youâ€™re going to be playing in some of the best atmospheres in all of college basketball,â€ť Hurley said. â€śAnd the 10 home games that we play next year are going to be sellouts.â€ť
Hurley is hoping, though not quite assuming, that the 2020-21 college basketball season proceeds on schedule.
â€śIâ€™ve got my mind wrapped around getting ready for November,â€ť Hurley said. â€śObviously if things changed weâ€™ll be prepared for a later start.â€ť
As of now, nine of the teamâ€™s 13 players are on campus preparing for the season, Hurley said, though not specifying which players are so far absent. Each of the nine was tested for COVID-19 upon arrival, the coach said.
â€śThey were all tested initially and all came back negative,â€ť Hurley said.
The Huskies were initially allowed to work out only in groups of two but some restrictions have recently been lifted.
â€śThere are groups of four now in the weight room and groups of four on the court,â€ť Hurley said. â€śTheyâ€™re not integrated together. Theyâ€™re on opposite sides of the facility.â€ť
The UConn players will be allowed coach-supervised activities beginning on July 20.
One player who Hurley did admit had yet to arrive in Storrs was freshman center Javonte Brown-Ferguson. As he lives in the Toronto area, Brown-Ferguson is having difficulty getting permission to cross the border.
â€śIf youâ€™re an international student that was at a high school out of the U.S., in order to get your I-20, you have to be registered in a course that is not just on-line,â€ť Hurley said.
UConn is not currently offering in-person classes. Hurley is hopeful that Brown-Ferguson will be allowed to report to campus Aug. 1.
The start of the season, just like many other sports around the country, is still somewhat in doubt. Hurley admits his is lucky to be able to follow some of the road maps that will soon be laid down by the NBA, college football and others before deciding how safe it is to play a full college basketball season.
â€śIâ€™m not ready to make an assessment of where things are going to be. Maybe in a couple of weeks Iâ€™ll have enough information,â€ť Hurley said.
The coach admitted that he wasnâ€™t thrilled when the Huskies were scheduled to play Tulane in the first round of the American Athletic Conference tourney without the presence of fans. It seems he wouldnâ€™t like a similar set up if itâ€™s proposed for the upcoming season.
â€śI had a major problem with having us play in the conference tournament with no fans,â€ť Hurley said. â€śIf the situation is not safe enough for spectators to be there, Iâ€™m not sure how itâ€™s a safe enough environment to put college students in. So I was melting down the night before our games were canceled that next day, in meetings with Dave (Benedict).â€ť
Hurley says that both of the players on his roster who are recovering from serious injuries, forward Tyler Polley (torn ACL) and forward Akok Akok (torn achilles) are ahead of schedule with their rehab.
â€śTyler just has returned recently. Weâ€™re going off reports from Tyler - Tyler spent the majority of the time away at home - but all reports have been very, very positive with him,â€ť Hurley said. â€śAnd then Akok looks great. Heâ€™s shooting. Heâ€™s moving well. Heâ€™s an elite athlete and heâ€™s going to recover well from this.â€ť
Hurley was asked if, given the fact that outdoor assemblies are more coronavirus acceptable than indoor ones, that his team might begin practicing outside. â€śI wish we could go old school and get out there and start hooping in the park. Thatâ€™s how I grew up. There was nothing like it,â€ť Hurley said. â€¦ Jackson is recovering from a minor knee injury but is apparently getting restless. â€śWeâ€™ve had to pull Andre Jackson off the outdoor courts,â€ť Hurley said with a laugh. â€¦ The last time Hurley attended a Big East game, he believes, was when he attended the Big East Tournament as head coach of St. Benedictâ€™s Prep around 2009. â€śTo experience by far the best conference tournament in the country,â€ť Hurley said. â€śThereâ€™s nothing like the Big East Tournament. I donâ€™t think thereâ€™s anything thatâ€™s remotely close.â€ť