PHILADELPHIA – The 12 men’s and women’s basketball teams that make up the American Athletic Conference joined together for the conferences’ sixth media day on Monday. Commissioner of the conference Mike Aresco addressed the audience and said that he is excited for the future of the American.
“I could not be more excited for the upcoming basketball season and I know you all are too,” Aresco said in his opening address. “But also for the future of this dynamic conference. We have programs steeped in tradition with long and storied history. And we have up and coming programs.”
Aresco welcomed the three new men’s basketball coaches to the American — Joe Dooley for ECU, Dan Hurley for UConn and Penny Hardaway for Memphis.
“We have an impressive roster of highly successful coaches,” Aresco said. “And I am extremely pleased that Joe (Dooley), Dan (Hurley) and Penny (Hardaway) are now a part of our team with the American. They’re going to add a great deal.”
The UConn men’s team was picked to finished fifth in the preseason poll, while Jalen Adams was selected to the All-Conference first team.
The Huskies women’s basketball team was selected to finish first in the preseason poll. Senior Katie Lou Samuelson was named the conference’s preseason Player of the Year. Samuelson, Napheesa Collier and Crystal Dangerfield were all selected to the All-Conference first team.
More than anything else, Dan Hurley just wants his players to love the game as much as he does.
“They have to love the game the way I love the game,” Hurley said in a coaches roundtable. “They have to obsess over the game the way I obsess over the game.”
Hurley’s intensity has been a cornerstone of these first few weeks of practice, and he wants that to bleed into the way the team approaches basketball. Jalen Adams could tell something was different about Hurley from day one.
“You see [Hurley], just standing around with his Airpods in, all quiet, and then as soon as it’s time for practice, he’s running around smacking the back floor,” Adams said. “ And it’s like, ‘Yo, this dude is crazy.’”
Entering his senior year after rumors he would declare for the NBA Draft, Adams hasn’t made an NCAA tournament since his freshman year where he made his famous ¾-court shot in Orlando. When asked about the legacy he wanted to leave, though, he was dead set on getting his team back to the postseason instead of focusing on his own personal legacy.
“I just want our team to experience what it’s like to get to that postseason, to continue playing in March. That’s when all the excitement is really happening,” Adams said. “That’s really when dreams do come true in March… We worked so hard over the summer, we really didn’t take many days off so it’ll just be great for our team to get that experience.”
Hurley’s philosophy to help this happen remains simple: He’s going to be the team’s biggest critic in practice, and their biggest supporter on the sidelines.
“I’m gonna be the most demanding coach you’ve ever had during practice block,” Hurley said. “I’m not gonna look past anything. I’m gonna create a chaotic environment, I’m gonna create an uncomfortable environment, one of great intensity and stress in practice.
“And then on game night, I’m gonna be your biggest supporter. You’ll never see me blowing up a kid on the sideline after he takes a bad shot. That stuff should all be sorted out before you get on the court,” he added.
Nothing much has changed from the day he took the job to now in terms of where he sees the team’s performance. He still thinks they can ride their guard talent to be competitive; they just have to keep doing what they’re doing.
“There has nothing that’s gone on in practice that’s caused me to waver from [my original thoughts],” Hurley said. “We gotta get better, we gotta keep improving defensively, especially since you’re learning a whole new defensive system.
“I have a lot of confidence and belief in these guys because they’re embracing the grind, they’re embracing the work… they’re all getting themselves out on the court, they’re all hungry to get better.”
The Huskies are coming off another undefeated regular season that included an American Conference Championship, but also a heartbreaking defeat to Notre Dame in the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament.
UConn had to say goodbye to key contributors Kia Nurse, Gabby Williams and Azura Stevens. However, they welcomed in top recruits Christyn Williams and Olivia Nelson-Ododa. Senior Napheesa Collier has taken notice from Williams’ effort in practice.
“Christyn is doing really, really well,” Collier said. “She doesn’t play like a freshman, honestly. She’s really confident in what she is doing. She is just a really good player. Olivia (Nelson-Ododa) is too. This is a really good class that we have coming in.”
Collier and Samuelson said that freshmen are expected to make mistakes and as seniors they will do what is necessary to help them with their transition.
Head coach Geno Auriemma said that sophomore Megan Walker has made significant strides in her game and expects her to be a contributor.
“The biggest 180 from last year probably has been Megan Walker,” Auriemma said. “From the player that showed up the first week of practice last year, to this year, it’s not even the same person. So, that’s been really, really impressive to see her make that kind of a jump.”
Auriemma said that Walker’s role this season is completely up to her and her rebounding skills is something that the team craves.
“I’ve had conversations with her. She kind of does need to be like Pheesa (Collier) was as a sophomore and she needs to be a little bit of everything for us,” Auriemma said.
Samuelson said that Batouly Camara has impressed her during the first week of practices and hopes that she can provide the team with necessary depth.
“Batouly has done really good in practice. She sets some pretty good screens,” Samuelson said. “You are not getting through her screens … She knows she is good at that and she has been setting screens to get people open and rebounding as much as she can.”
As for the American Conference as a whole, Auriemma said that there has been a substantial amount of improvement in competition.
“It’s a tremendously competitive conference,” Auriemma said. “But it doesn’t look like that to the outside world because we are in it … If you removed us, our conference is competitive as hell.”
The Huskies will kick off their season with an exhibition matchup against Vanguard on Nov. 4 at 1 p.m.
Michael Logan is the sports editor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.