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Coach Hurley shares his thoughts on incoming players

The plan remains to play basketball at some point this season, but when that day will come, UConn coach Dan Hurley couldn’t tell you. The Huskies are going about their daily summer workouts in Storrs while following proper coronavirus precautions in hopes that a season will eventually arrive.

Currently, the players are all on campus for summer school, conditioning, and four-day-a-week one-hour workouts as they play catch-up from not being on the court together since March.

“We are kind of almost stuck on what we would be doing in the postseason, right when the season ends, and the summer,” Hurley said via a Zoom conference on Monday afternoon. “We don’t know when (the season is) going to start. I think there’s a hopefulness there will be a season.”

Judging by the current landscape of the country in trying to deal with the pandemic, it seems unlikely that the season will begin in November.

“Without compromising the health of these players and officials and the staff, we desperately want to play,” said Hurley, who remains optimistic the Huskies will have a Big East portion of the season.

Right now Hurley and the Huskies are trying to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation, going about a daily routine while following proper protocols.

“You are asking young people to show a tremendous amount of personal discipline and consideration for others,” Hurley said. “For the most part, these guys have done an excellent job. They are kids still and I’m sure they will struggle with all the protocols we have in place because it’s a lot.”

Of course, when campus reopens later this month and students return, following those protocols will become even more important if the Huskies hope to play basketball. With the exception of Akok Akok (Achilles’ tendon), Tyler Poller (knee), and freshman Andre Jackson (knee), the rest of the Huskies are taking part in full workouts.

That trio has been doing non-contact shooting work while trying to return from injuries. In regards to Jackson, Hurley noted that the team is “trying to protect him from himself” and wants to avoid rushing him back too soon from his minor knee injury.

PUMPING IRON

The Twitterverse was sent into a frenzy last week after photos of bulked up sophomores Akok Akok, James Bouknight, and Jalen Gaffney emerged. The players have clearly hit the weight room hard during the offseason and are expected to continue that trend with newcomer Mike Rehfeldt taking over the program's strength and conditioning last month.

Hurley declined to get into specifics about the change but seemed pleased with the results, saying, “The buy-in with the guys right now is at a high level."

Not everyone is bulking up, though, with Hurley noting senior center Josh Carlton has dropped 25 pounds in the offseason.


THE BIGGER, THE BETTER

The frontcourt has been a soft spot for the program in recent years but that has changed this summer. A slew of incoming big men will provide depth on a roster anchored by returning stars, Josh Carlton and Isaiah Whaley.

Red-shirt freshmen Richie Springs will be joining the team along with two freshmen - center/forward Adam Sanogo and Jovonte Brown-Ferguson.

“It’s a very impressive end of the court,” Hurley said. “It probably hasn’t looked that way in years.”

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BECOMING THE MAN

After dominating the second half of the season, perhaps nobody comes in with higher expectations than James Bouknight. By averaging 13 points and 4.1 rebounds in his first season as a Husky, he earned third-team All-AAC honors and a spot on the All-Rookie team.

His season got off to a slow start due to a team suspension for an off-the-court incident, but Bouknight came on strong to help UConn finish 19-12 and earn its first winning record in three years. During the Huskies' 9-4 finish to end the regular season, Bouknight averaged 17.1 points and 5.0 rebounds.

“He has to tighten everything up, he’s a marked man now,” Hurley said. “There’s a different type of mindset and mentality that you’ve got to develop.”


OFF THE COURT

Hurley and the Huskies are rumored to be a front-runner for another top 2021 recruit in 6-foot-4 shooting guard Jordan Hawkins, who ranks 49th overall in next year’s class. Hawkins is expected to make his decision soon, but NCAA rules restrict Hurley from commenting on recruits until they sign a Letter of Intent.

Hawkins would join another top-50 recruit in 6-2 guard Rahsool Diggins from Archbishop Wood Catholic. Diggins, who ranks 41st overall, announced his decision to come to Storrs last week. He fills the first of three expected openings for 2021 with UConn expecting to lose seniors Carlton, Polley, and Whaley.

After falling behind on the recruiting front under former head coach Kevin Ollie, the Huskies have been coming on strong with Hurley at the helm.

Last year’s class netted three starters in Akok, Bouknight, and Jalen Gaffney. Then, the Huskies’ coaching staff went out and added Jackson (71st ranked), center/forward Adam Sanogo (83rd), and Brown-Ferguson for this year’s freshmen class. Brown-Ferguson joined the team last week from his native Canada.

“He's exactly what we thought he would be,” Hurley said. It’s hard to wrap your mind around that he’s only 17 years old.”

In addition to landing recruits, UConn has done well on the transfer front with Howard product R.J. Cole available to play this season. Junior Tyrese Martin, who comes in from the University of Rhode Island, could also join the team, but the 6-6 guard’s eligibility for this season is still pending an NCAA ruling, per Hurley.