It’s the beginning of a new era for the UConn men’s basketball team. Looking past the ugly fallout of firing Kevin Ollie, new head coach Dan Hurley is looking to take the team back to championship heights. But what exactly is this team going to look like come November?
Reflecting on last year
There were a lot of issues with last year’s team that went beyond talent level. Lineup construction, lack of motivation and a nonexistent playbook were some of the reasons why the team fell short, and most of those issues fell on the coaching staff being ill-equipped to handle these issues.
One bad second half against Michigan State in the PK80 tournament seemed to begin the downward spiral of blowout losses and half-hearted performances. It was tough to watch such a storied program get beat down by teams like Temple and Memphis, and lose to teams like Cincinnati and Wichita State at home without the games even being exciting.
There were glimpses where the freshmen looked promising, but the inconsistent playing time really hurt their chances to develop in what ended up being a lost season. There’s no indication that Josh Carlton, Mamadou Diarra and Isaiah Whaley are going to leave, so one can only hope that they get their chances to shine next year.
Jalen Adams had spurts of being great, but for the most part, he had to carry the team on his back with the underperformance of Terry Larrier and the inconsistency of Christian Vital. Adams led the team in minutes played (38.1), points per game (18.1) and field goal percentage (43.0), but never really took his game to the next level.
It’s still unclear if Vital is going to return or leave either to the NBA draft or to potentially sign overseas, but it’s more likely than not he’ll end up coming back to UConn for his junior year. Considering him and Adams are the only ones who have stood the test of time after the 2016-17 mass exodus, it would behoove him to stick around for at least another year.
Looking ahead to next year
It’s going to be exciting to see what this team will look like under Hurley, but the reality is this team is in the middle of a rebuild. Although most of the team is returning, there will probably be a learning curve to Hurley’s coaching style and his staff.
The first of the three newcomers is former University of Rhode Island commit Brendan Adams, brother of Jaylen Adams of St. Bonaventure. The 6-foot-4 guard averaged 18 points, four rebounds and three assists at Calvert Hill High School in Baltimore, and may get a lot of playing time depending on what Vital does.
The two grad transfers, forward Kassoum Yakwe and guard Tarin Smith, will bring some much-needed experience to both the frontcourt and the backcourt. Smith is familiar with the Hurley family, as he played for Bob Hurley Sr. at St. Anthony’s High School. He started all 64 games over the last two years at Duquesne, averaging 12.4 points per game with three rebounds and 3.2 assists.
Yakwe is joining the Huskies from St. John’s. The 6-foot-7 forward will fill the void left by Terry Larrier, who will forego his last year of eligibility to join the NBA Draft. Yakwe averaged 7.1 points per game and 5.3 rebounds per game; Vital led the Huskies last season with 5.4 rebounds per game.
This inaugural season will be less about the details of the on-court product and more about Hurley bringing in top recruits to bolster the program. While the expectations for a program like UConn are always high, it’s unrealistic to expect them to go deep into the NCAA Tournament. But the hopes are that they can at least get past the first round of the American Athletic Conference tournament and complete the regular season with a winning record.
There are a lot of questions that need to be answered in the next few years with the state of UConn basketball, but with Hurley at the helm, UConn fans can trust that the program is in good hands.