I am honored to be the first student-athlete that is taking part in the Huskies’ Tribune this year, where we get UConn athletes to talk about their experiences as a Husky. This is mine, and I hope you all enjoy.
What is interesting about my story is that I didn’t start out as an athlete. I began my time with UConn basketball as a student manager, as I had some class schedule conflicts that left me off the team after the walk-on tryout in September. However, the team said that I could work as a manager for my freshman year and then eventually try out again as a sophomore and be on the team. I decided that this was my ticket in to ultimately becoming a Husky, so I agreed wholeheartedly.
As time went on during the winter of my freshman year, the team decided to make me a practice player as well as a student manager. The team was battling a multitude of injuries, and between intense practices and bruising games, all of the players were struggling to stay healthy. So I spent about a week filling out paperwork and filling out NCAA compliance forms, and I was officially registered as a practice player in early January. I worked as a manager for a couple weeks after just to get the feel of how practices were run and how things operated under Coach Hurley, but at the end of January my time for passing out waters and wiping the floor was over, and I was a practice player running drills, rebounding and playing against some of the best players in the country.
Because of my experience working as a manager and my ability to be in practices, I found myself traveling with the team on all of their road trips. I would practice the day before and in the gameday shootaround, then work the game as a manager, putting chairs out, handing out waters and cleaning up the bench. At the end of February, however, everything changed.
I thought it was just another normal day. We were leaving for SMU after practice that day, and I was all packed with my polo and khakis for working the game. Right in the middle of the stretch, our director of operations Eric Youncofski pulled me out of line and said something along the lines of, “Hey, you’re getting a jersey for the game tomorrow. See me after practice.” Then he just walked away, leaving my mind spiraling as I tried to process what he just said.
All efforts to focus during practice were lost immediately. I had to snap myself back to reality about a million times just so I didn’t mess up on the scout or look even more helpless on defense than I already was. Practice mercifully came to an end, and I basically sprinted to find Eric and find out everything. He went on to tell me that our other two walk-ons were staying back on this trip because of labs they had in their classes. He told me that I had been working really hard in practice and that the plan way back in September was for me to be on the team anyway, so the coaches had decided to add me to the roster. He congratulated me and told me that I wouldn’t be needing my manager things for the trip down to Texas.
It was, quite literally, a dream come true. I don’t think I’ve smiled more in consecutive hours than I did that day in February. I packed up all my stuff as quickly as I could and called everyone I knew and told them about what just happened, still in utter disbelief.
It was, quite literally, a dream come true.
While that day was a great one, my favorite moment as a UConn Husky came the night of the game. Rather than setting up the bench, I was changing into clothes for warmups. Our head manager, Justin, was handing out the “bundles” which had your jersey, shorts, and warmup shirt. I thought my jersey was just going to be like the generic, bookstore version that they gave me just to have for this game. But as he passed my bundle, I saw something that I can picture like it was right in front of me now: a gray jersey with blue numbers and a red outline, the Nike swoosh and the best five letters in college basketball, UConn, right across the middle. I flipped it over, and on the back was the number 41 and my name in blue across the top. I held it up and had to catch my breath. As I did, all I heard was Jalen Adams across the locker room, yell “Ohhhh, Matt got a jersey?!?!” The whole team looked and started cheering, congratulating me, excited for me that I was finally a part of the team. I thought to myself, in that moment, that all the hard work it took to get here, all the rebounds I had got, all the broken markers I had to pick up because Coach slammed them on the ground, all the times I got blown past by Jalen and Alterique, all the times that I had gotten yelled at, all the hours I spent in my room dreaming of being in this spot, had all paid off. I was officially a UConn Husky, and it’s been an experience I wouldn’t trade for the world.