STORRS - When Dan Hurley walks onto the court before a basketball game, heâ€™s usually greeted by a cacophony of sounds.
If itâ€™s in Connecticut, the raucous cheers from the UConn student section crescendo as the coach struts toward the home bench. If the Huskies are on the road, the jeers rain down on him as he confidently strolls by the layup lines.
These days, with a scant few fans in the stands to provide the noise Hurley occasionally acknowledges, he isnâ€™t sure how to react.
â€śItâ€™s eerie, man. Itâ€™s strange,â€ť Hurley admits.
UConn beat DePaul 82-61 Wednesday night at Gampel Pavilion, its fourth win in five games this season and its first Big East Conference win since 2013.
â€śHappy to play a game again, just thrilled to get our first conference win,â€ť Hurley said afterward.
But there were only a handful of fans on hand to celebrate with the Huskies, the few family members of the players and coaches that were allowed to attend.
In this uncharted season, few things are going on as normal. So much so that outside of the travel, every game feels the same to most coaches and players.
â€śThe home and road records, neutral, everything feels neutral,â€ť Hurley said. â€śObviously thereâ€™s an advantage of shooting on the rims and comfortable in surroundings but these games all feel neutral.â€ť
There isnâ€™t much in the way of screaming voices of support or displeasure during the action to remind teams where they are playing.
â€śThe home court advantage goes to the team that has the most energy,â€ť said DePaul coach Dave Leitao, the longtime UConn assistant.
Few teams in the nation have been hit harder by COVID cancellations and postponements harder than the two that faced off Wednesday night in Storrs. UConn has had two pauses interrupt its season already, and DePaul didnâ€™t even get to play its first game until Dec. 23.
Hurley admits neither nor his players are enjoying all aspects of the disjointed season that is 2020-21.
â€śNo one wants to hear this, everyone wants to hear that everything is going great. No, this is hard,â€ť Hurley said. â€śItâ€™s hard on these kids. Just their day-to-day experience.â€ť
The lack of interactions with fellow students and their own families are at minimum these days, leaving the players with little else to do.
â€śTheyâ€™re all creatures of habit and we took habits away from them,â€ť Leitao said.
At UConn, which saw games against Vanderbilt and North Carolina State wiped out, there has been plenty of frustration.
â€śTo go from the practice facility to the dorm to the practice facility to a game or maybe not a game because it was canceled or maybe not a practice because youâ€™re in a pause,â€ť Hurley said.
Hurley has often praised his players for their mental strength this season, but his respect isnâ€™t limited to just the Huskies.
â€śI give these guys who are going through this season a lot of credit,â€ť Hurley said.
UConn (4-1, 1-1 Big East) will play its next three games on the road, at Marquette, at Butler and at DePaul, but Milwaukee, Indianapolis and Chicago could very well feel like Storrs to the Huskies.
â€śItâ€™s an eerie feeling on gameday,â€ť Hurley said. â€śThey feel like secret scrimmages.â€ť
In the end, virtually all teams in the nation are going through the same things, but that doesnâ€™t make it any easier for the individual coaches and players.
â€śYou have to do the best you can under the circumstances. In the end, when itâ€™s all said and done at the end of the year, youâ€™re going to have to accept responsibly for whatever type of season you have. But itâ€™s a heck of a challenge,â€ť Hurley said.