On Thursday, UConn men’s basketball head coach Dan Hurley held a virtual press conference, where he gave updates on the team’s shutdown after a player tested positive for COVID-19 last week. He also talked about his three new official recruits after they signed their letters of intent on Wednesday. The mood was volatile, as the topics shifted from negative with the impact of the virus on the upcoming season, to positive with the welcoming of the new players. Let’s touch on both extremes.
Last Thursday, the university announced that a member of the men’s basketball team tested positive for COVID-19, triggering a two-week shutdown of team activities. With games coming up right around the corner, Hurley said that is far from an ideal situation.
“Overall, there’s just a high level of concern for the team,” Hurley said. “It’s never a good time to go into quarantine for any person, but when you’re creeping closer to games beginning and your opener, there’s a level of anxiety the coaches and players all share right now about our ability to be prepared for opening night.”
“We’re very concerned about the welfare of our guys upon returning,” – Coach Hurley
Hurley said the concern isn’t necessarily playing well, but rather making sure the players are in the right shape to go out and compete in games, particularly those returning from injury like Brendan Adams or Akok Akok. Hurley said the shutdown has been a “major disrupter” in the progress those two players had made. He said missing two full weeks of practice could take weeks for players’ bodies to recover from once they return.
“We’re very concerned about the welfare of our guys upon returning,” Hurley said.
Hurley said the players who have been cleared can use the team facilities, but only one or two at a time with no coaches involved. So while two players are allowed to shoot around and dribble on opposite ends of the floor or use the weight room, there are no coach-led team activities until Thursday, Nov. 19 at the earliest, which Hurley said is the target date to return.
That would leave less than a week before the season opener, which Hurley said is on Nov. 25, followed by another game on Nov. 27 before the Legends Classic at Mohegan Sun on Dec. 1. As those first two games are not yet set in stone, Hurley was not able to name the opponents. But now, it’s not clear whether the first few games will even happen.
“Your number one responsibility is to take great care of your players,” Hurley said. “We’ve gotta make decisions with scheduling based on what’s in the best interest of our players and their welfare.”
Hurley said playing a game on the 25th is still a real possibility, but they’re really focusing on being ready for the most important and most likely part of the season, which is the Big East play that starts on Dec. 11.
The more positive topic of the press conference was the new recruits. Rahsool Diggins, Jordan Hawkins and Samson Johnson signed their National Letters of Intent on Wednesday to join the UConn basketball program in 2021. Hurley raved about the quality of these players, who make up the eighth best 2021 recruiting class in the country, according to 247Sports.
“To put together a class of guys that have all the potential in the world, plus these guys are really good players right now,” Hurley said. “Three big impact players, three guys that want to be coached, three guys that want to go to a place like UConn and challenge themselves to measure up at an elite level.”
Diggins is a 6-foot-3 guard from Philadelphia. Hurley said he feels like Diggins can really elevate the people around him, both with his play and his attitude.
“Rahsool is the type of point guard with all types of game and skill and feel and Philly toughness,” Hurley said. “Every time he steps on the floor, he believes he’s the best player.”
Hawkins is a 6-foot-5 wing from Maryland. Hurley said he can do everything well with his great athleticism.
“[Jordan] is essential casting for the type of prototypical, athletic shooter with great length and all types of upside,” Hurley said. “He’s just the perfect type of wing prospect.”
Johnson is a 6-foot-10 forward originally from Togo in West Africa but was recruited out of The Patrick School in New Jersey, where current UConn freshman Adama Sanogo also came from. Hurley said he saw Johnson and Sanogo play for the first time together on the same day and while he couldn’t have imagined getting both players at the time, he’s really happy he did.
“First look at Samson, and I think both me and Kimani [Young] just loved him right away and viewed him as a guy that could be a great player here and projects to be a potential NBA-level talent,” Hurley said.
Hurley is very optimistic about the future of the program with these new recruits, who all come out of the Northeast where Hurley says basketball is king.
“These are the type of guys who come into a place, and when the heat turns up, they don’t blink,” Hurley said.