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Back-to-Back Champs UConn, Coach Hurley Show How to Succeed in NIL, Player Transfer Era
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By Associated Press
Published 2 months ago on
April 9, 2024

UConn coach Dan Hurley celebrates after the Huskies' win against Purdue in the NCAA men's championship basketball game, Monday, April 8, 2024. (AP/David J. Phillip)

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dan Hurley and the UConn Huskies proved that even in the age of NIL and rampant player transfers, it’s possible to build a program capable of winning back-to-back national titles.

A few minutes after cutting down the nets on Monday night, the coach was already thinking about a three-peat.

“We’re going to maintain a championship culture,” Hurley said. “We’re bringing in some very talented high school freshmen. Our returning players, through player development, will take a big jump. We’ll strategically add through the portal.

“I don’t think that we’re going anywhere.”

Hurley’s confidence is understandable considering the Huskies did basically the same thing before this season. They lost their top scorers from the 2023 championship team — Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins — before reloading with players like Cam Spencer and Stephon Castle who helped them beat Purdue 75-60 in the title game of the NCAA Tournament on Monday night.

Another Overhaul Will Be Needed

Spencer and Tristen Newton are out of college eligibility, while Donovan Clingan and Castle are potential lottery picks in the NBA draft. Hurley already had the potential scenarios running through his head.

“We’ll enjoy this for a couple days,” Hurley said. “On the flight home tomorrow, we’ll start talking about what the roster’s going to look like. Obviously we graduate some players. We’re going to lose a couple potentially to the NBA early entry.”

Hurley, 51, will be a hot item on the coaching market over the next few weeks, particularly with the Kentucky job open. John Calipari is leaving there and reportedly will surface at Arkansas.

But Hurley didn’t sound like a man who wanted to load up a moving truck anytime soon.

“Yeah, yeah, I don’t think that’s a concern,” Hurley said laughing. “My wife, you should have her answer that.”

Comfortable in Storrs

At this point, it’s understandable why Hurley is comfortable in Storrs. He was rewarded after last year’s title with a $32.1 million, six-year deal that could keep him on campus through 2029.

It wouldn’t be a surprise if another raise is in the near future.

Despite Hurley’s hard-charging personality, his players don’t seem to mind. He’s been able to attract five-star recruits and also has a knack for finding mid-major transfers who can play at an elite level.

Castle, a five-star talent who could have played just about anywhere in the country, said one of the reasons he picked UConn is because he wanted to learn from Hurley’s intensity.

Spencer played his first three seasons at Loyola (Maryland) before transferring to Rutgers last season.

With one year of eligibility remaining, Hurley coaxed Spencer to UConn, and it was a perfect fit.

“We said ‘Cam, if you don’t join us, we’re a top 10, top 15 team. If you do join us, we could go back-to-back,’” Hurley said.

Hurley Joins Elite Group of Coaches

Hurley joined an elite group of coaches Monday, becoming the first coach to lead a school to back-to-back titles since Billy Donovan accomplished the feat in 2006 and 2007. Others who have done it — UCLA’s John Wooden and Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski — are some of the sport’s biggest icons.

But Hurley said he’s still chasing some of his mentors, particularly his dad. Bob Hurley Sr. won more than two dozen state championships at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, New Jersey, producing dozens of Division I college players in the process. He was at State Farm Stadium on Monday night to watch his son clinch another college title.

“Even after back-to-back for me, I’m still just a worse version of him,” Hurley said.

Then he grinned.

“A little bit worse,” he added. “I’m getting better, and I’m coming for him.”

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