Photo courtesy of UConn Athletics.
By David Cordova
Every now and then, there’s always those coaches that are looking for that one job that they want, the one place that they dream of coaching at, the one place where they plan on making a statement. Wherever Dan Hurley has gone, he’s worked with whatever he’s had and been successful with it.
As a player, he was a part of a successful program at the now-defunct St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, New Jersey, which was coached by his father, Bob Hurley, Sr., and won two New Jersey Tournament of Champions titles as a sophomore in 1989 on a team that went 32-0 and as a senior in 1991, on a Friars team that went 31-1 and was ranked No. 2 in the country.
From there, he went on to Seton Hall, where he was a part of Pirates teams that made it to three NCAA Tournament appearances and an NIT appearance, and also won the 1993 Big East Tournament championship. In that span, he scored 1,070 points and handed out 437 assists.
After his playing days, he coached for a season at St. Anthony as an assistant in 1996-97, before heading to Rutgers University, where he was a part of their staff for four seasons from 1997-01. After coaching in college, he went on to coach high school for nine seasons at St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark, New Jersey, where he finished in the top five in the USA Today high school national poll four times, and produced players such as J.R. Smith (Cleveland Cavaliers), Tristan Thompson (Cleveland Cavaliers) and Lance Thomas (New York Knicks).
In 2010, he went back to the Division I college ranks and spent two years at Wagner College in Staten Island, New York, where in his second and final season, he went 25-6. In 2012, he went on to the University of Rhode Island, where he spent six seasons as the head coach. By the end of his tenure with the Rams, he had won two Atlantic-10 championships and made two NCAA Tournament appearances and an NIT appearance.
And now, he’s at a new location: The University of Connecticut, where he was hired on March 22nd, taking over for Kevin Ollie, who was fired on March 10th. After establishing his reputation at the previous locations, Hurley plans to get the Huskies back on track.
When asked about getting the UConn job, he replied, “Well, it’s exciting, you know, there’s very few programs in the last 25-30 years in college basketball that have had the history and tradition and championships, producing the outstanding players that not only star at the collegiate level, but also go on to great things at the NBA level. The lineage of great coaches and great players, following two national championship coaches on the men’s side, working across the hallway from an all-time great coach [on the women’s side] in Geno Auriemma, too, you know, it’s a dream come true for me. In my prime in basketball, UConn is kind of one of the standards of excellence and now I get to lead the Huskies.”
When asked if he saw UConn as a dream job, Hurley said, “Yeah, I think you know, for me, I’m a guy who, I think, has spent his life in the Northeast, and I think there’s no bigger, no better college basketball program than UConn, in the Northeast. Obviously, Villanova, in the last couple of years, may have something to say about that, but again, UConn is UConn, and the chance to take over such a storied program, was a dream come true for me, for a guy that eight or nine years ago was coaching high school basketball.”
This year’s Huskies return several standouts from last year’s team, including senior Jalen Adams, juniors Christian Vital, Kwintin Williams and Eric Cobb and a bunch of sophomores in Josh Carlton, Isaiah Whaley, Tyler Polley, Mamadou Diarra and Alterique Gilbert.
Last season, the Huskies suffered through injuries that held out Gilbert and Diarra for a large portion of the season, which led them to finish 14-18. With a new coach in charge, UConn is set to do different things.
“You know what, we’ve got some challenges right now, in terms of, I’d say, depth, and maybe proven production, especially in the front court. There’s some talent there, there’s a number of bodies that we can throw out there, but there’s not a guy that we can kind of hang our hat on right now as a known commodity, so you know, the front court right now, there’s a number of guys that are capable, but just haven’t shown yet that they can produce,” said Hurley about the front court.
And in regards to the backcourt, he added: “The guard play is a strength, we’re going to shock people this year and be a surprise team. You know, Jalen Adams is going to have to have one of the better guard years in the country, and then guys like Alterique Gilbert, Christian Vital, Tarin Smith, Brendan Adams, are going to have to play at a really high level. Guard play has to go from a weakness last year to a strength this year.”
UConn has plenty of good games on their non-conference schedule, such as the game against Arizona on December 2nd at the XL Center in Hartford, Connecticut, and then December 8th against Florida State in the Never Forget Tribute Classic at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, which is a stone’s throw away from where Hurley was born in raised in Jersey City.
But two other games that many will be interested in will take place at Madison Square Garden in New York City, where they will be playing on November 15th against Syracuse in the 2K Classic tournament and on December 22nd against Villanova.
Both Villanova and Syracuse, along with UConn, were a part of the original seven teams that were in the old Big East Conference when the league was formed in 1979 by the late Dave Gavitt. In 2013, both of the latter two teams moved on to different conferences, with Syracuse moving on to the ACC and UConn moving on the American Conference, in which they would win their fourth national championship in school history in the inaugural season of the new conference.
When asked if he would consider scheduling some of their old Big East rivals in for home, away and neutral games, Hurley replied, “Yeah, I think UConn, just from the past Big East days, would want to renew those rivalries, I think that’s important. I think it’s important for us to have a really exciting non-conference slate, [with] UConn playing in the New York metropolitan area, specifically at the Garden, which is pretty magical, the moments there with Ray [Allen] and Kemba [Walker] over the years, were some of the best college memories and moments that that building has seen, in over the last 20 years. And it also fits our recruiting profile, the footprint, obviously in New York and New Jersey, it’s always been good to UConn, and that helps us recruit in the area, if we have that huge presence during the non-conference [slate].”
On the American Athletic Conference, which is now in its sixth season of existence, he replied, “I think it’s a great league, I think it becomes one of the best basketball leagues in the country, with Memphis and UConn, doing the things that they’re expected to do, in terms of their pedigree, and their past, and so, I think that obviously helps with that, and – Temple, Houston, SMU, Wichita State, Cincinnati, – these are the perennial NCAA Tournament-caliber programs, so you know, when Memphis and UConn are right, it’s a five, six-bid plus league, and if you’re a five or six bid-plus league, it makes you one of the best leagues in the country.”
Now that Hurley is in his new surroundings, you can look for the Huskies to make a significant turnaround. If he could do big things at Wagner and Rhode Island, there’s no reason he can’t succeed at UConn. The players will have to take time to adjust to the new system, but if everything goes according to plan, then the Huskies may be able to get back into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years.
What can the Huskies fans expect from the program this season? “I think what you can expect to see is a really, really hard-playing team. I think our fans will be excited with kind of the aggressive style of play, the no-quit attitude, the competitiveness, the togetherness of the team, I just think we’re going to be a feisty team, a team that plays with a lot of passion, a lot of energy, and you know, a team that’s going to give ourselves a chance to win every time we step out on the court, because of the way we’re going to defend and how hard we’re going to compete,” said Hurley.
On November 8th, the new regime, or the Hurley Era, will begin against Morehead State at the Gampel Pavilion, UConn’s on-campus arena. If you’re a UConn fan, be ready to see something new.