“I want to come back,” said UConn men’s basketball captain Andre Jackson following his team’s National Championship victory. “If Coach (Dan Hurley) tells me to leave, I’ll leave. But I want to come back.”
Fast forward a few short weeks, and Jackson has now declared for the NBA Draft, while maintaining his eligibility. The athletic guard’s decision to test the waters is one of many recent departures from the program, with pro-ready talent Tristen Newton, Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins also declaring for the next level, although Newton still has eligibility as well. Sharpshooter Joey Calcaterra is out of eligibility, and with the new transfer landscape, the Huskies have also seen Nahiem Alleyne, Yarin Hasson and Richie Springs leave for greener pastures and more playing time, resembling an offseason reminiscent of last year’s. To make matters worse, a few days ago top transfer target Nick Timberlake chose Kansas as his next destination over Storrs.
Don’t worry just yet, UConn Nation.
As barren as next season’s roster looks right now compared to the 15 scholarship players previously on the table, the reality is this may be the new normal for the re-emerged program. Might I remind readers once again, this team went through a similar exodus last offseason, and is now a few weeks removed from a National Championship. Let’s break down each of these personnel departures and arrivals by group.
Lost Eligibility: Joey Calcaterra
Calcaterra is a natural departure, having used all four of his years of eligibility plus his COVID-19 year. Still, his elite shooting, particularly down the stretch and during the team’s 14-0 run to start the year, helped UConn boast a top bench in the entire nation. The loss of Calcaterra was inevitable, but his impact still needs to be replaced.
Draft Eligible: Jordan Hawkins, Adama Sanogo, Andre Jackson, Tristen Newton
This is the ultimate good news-bad news of having a stellar team. Those really good players that helped Connecticut win a National Championship are now ready to play professionally. They don’t owe the fanbase anything, and like everyone else, are rightfully making the best decision for themselves. Sometimes, in the case of Jackson, they even need the help of their coach to put them on the best path to success. While Hurley, from a team perspective, would probably love to see any of those four back next year, it’s that kind of players-first mentality that keeps these high-impact guys coming into the program through prep schools and the portal.
It’s also worth noting that it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Jackson or Newton return for another season. Newton hinted at a return on Alleyne’s farewell post, and Jackson’s late-first/early-second round draft stock, coupled with the rise of NIL, could make it worth sticking around one more year.
Transfer Portal Losses: Nahiem Alleyne, Yarin Hasson, Richie Springs
The portal has taken a few casualties, most notably Alleyne, who played a more significant part in the team’s success towards the end of the season. Hasson and Springs got more time than expected this year, but that was due to the Huskies’ dominance over their opponents in the bookends of the season, allowing Hurley to give other guys some extra, last-minute playing time. Their decisions are especially justified as their roles would be very similar in the coming season, but each could easily play a bigger part at a mid-low major level.
As for Alleyne, his impact on the court was much larger, adding 14 points combined in the Final Four and National Championship. He already committed to Big East rival St. John’s and new head coach Rick Pitino, where he is expected to play more, and deservedly so. However, it’s worth noting that on Connecticut’s roster, Alleyne was a complementary piece, great to have on your team but not absolutely critical for competing for a top seed in the Big East or a sixth National Championship.
Transfer Portal Gains: To be determined
The portal is very much give and take. Exit Jalen Gaffney, Rahsool Diggins, Akok Akok, Corey Floyd Jr. and Matt Garry, enter Calcaterra, Alleyne, Newton and Hassan Diarra. It’s an incredible new opportunity to add much needed help, quickly. Hurley did just that last year, accumulating a collective of pieces that bought into his ultimate vision. This isn’t to say that Connecticut will assuredly raise a banner next year thanks to new transfers, but Hurley will be able to go out and boost the roster in a similar fashion. Even with the Timberlake news, there are over 1,000 student athletes to currently pick from, giving the defending champions plenty of options. The NIL options, strong conference ties and rich basketball history make for some fantastic pitches as well.
Incoming Recruits: Stephon Castle, Solomon Ball, Jaylin Stewart, Jayden Ross, Youssouf Singare
This is Hurley’s greatest recruiting class ever, without a doubt. 24/7 Sports and ESPN both have this group as the third-best of 2023, with Castle and Ball listed as UConn’s Nos. 2 and 11 recruits of all time, respectively. While it’s hard to tell their immediate impacts with this squad, the future is certainly bright in Storrs, with McDonald’s All-American Castle leading the way.
Current Squad: Alex Karaban, Donovan Clingan, Hassan Diarra, Samson Johnson, Apostolos Roumoglou
Let’s consider some key facts about the players that remain. Karaban was a starter last year, making high-impact plays on both ends as a redshirt freshman while Clingan backed up the Final Four Most Outstanding Player, putting up high efficiency numbers along the way. Diarra had some big spark-play moments and can provide key leadership as a collegiate veteran. Johnson, plagued by an early-season injury, is looking to prove to UConn Nation why he started on opening night for this championship-winning team.
Things may seem a little more bleak than it was earlier this month, but it’s all part of the new normal. Hang tight UConn fans, and trust the process.