Two years ago, an innocent freshman filed into Gampel for his first taste of UConn basketball. The men’s team was making their season debut, taking on Wagner: a school, if being honest, he had never heard of before.
The team carried high expectations. Entering that game ranked No. 18 in the country, the Huskies had plenty of returning pieces—Purvis, Brimah, Adams—and some highly-touted new players as well in Gilbert and Larrier. Head coach Kevin Ollie was firmly in control of the program.
As usual, it was a soft opponent for the home opener, expected to boost some confidence and excitement heading into the season. That wide-eyed freshman felt the energy in the building and couldn’t wait to see an opening night victory.
That freshman was me. And that victory never came.
Before that game, UConn men’s basketball was 27-0 in home openers at Gampel. Wagner added a one in the loss column, beating UConn by a score of 68-57. I step in the building for the first time, and it all comes crashing down.
The team went on to have a regular season with a losing record for the first time in 30 years. Then came the absolute disaster that was last season, when Ollie’s team went 14-18 and was knocked off in the first round of the AAC tournament.
That sums up how UConn athletics have fared since I arrived on campus.
Yes, the women’s basketball team has had two dominant regular seasons. Sure, seeing the 100th win in a row is nothing to complain about. But in Storrs, with Geno at the helm, there’s championship expectations every year. Had I arrived a year earlier, I would’ve seen one of those. Instead, I’ve seen two heart-wrenching defeats in the Final Four, one on a buzzer-beater, the other in overtime to a heated rival.
I thought the football team couldn’t get any worse than my freshman year. Then came the next year. And then came this year to top it off. The year before I arrived, the football team finished just one game below .500, including a stunning upset over No. 13 Houston at the Rent. Now there is serious questioning over whether the program deserves to be kept alive.
Both soccer programs have experienced mostly disappointment. Baseball continues to produce major-league talent, without much in the way of collegiate success.
There certainly have been bright spots. Field hockey is the reigning national champion. Both hockey programs had excellent seasons in Hockey East last year.
But if you’re like me, basketball has always been at the center of not just UConn athletics, but the UConn brand as a whole.
So, on behalf of myself and the rest of the Class of 2020, I’d like to apologize for whatever curse we’ve brought to UConn sports. I should add that besides that one time I wore socks to sleep during freshman year, I have no idea what I did to deserve such a curse. But I apologize nonetheless.
Here’s the good news: the men’s basketball team is back—or at least the hype is. Thursday night’s opener was a sellout, the first since I’ve been a student here. Dan Hurley has restored the energy and excitement that’s been severely lacking the last two seasons. The team, while it still has to learn to play like one, is fast, fun and evidently capable of taking care of business on opening night.
Something happened that fateful Friday night against Wagner two years ago. The curse settled in, and UConn basketball hasn’t been quite the same since. But after Thursday night’s win, I’m hopeful that it’s finally been lifted, and those same wide-eyed freshmen who walked into Gampel on Thursday have a brighter four years ahead.