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Hurley's seniors talk team chemistry, elevated expectations

Eat, sleep, study, and go to the gym - welcome to life as a UConn men’s basketball player during a pandemic.

Despite the return to live basketball action being months away, Coach Hurley's close-knit squad is ready to face the uncertain season ahead under the leadership of an intriguing trio of seniors.

Josh Carlton, Isaiah Whaley, and Tyler Polley are all coming off their first winning season with the program and can’t wait to revive the momentum that was created last year under head coach Dan Hurley.

“The spirit of the team is great,” Polley said during a Zoom chat on Monday afternoon. “We can't wait for the season to start.”

After winning five straight to close the regular season at 19-12, the rest of the Huskies were denied a postseason due to COVID-19, which continues to leave the collegiate sports world in limbo heading into a new school year.

“The end, I hated the end,” Whaley said.

In order to try and ensure a season happens, Hurley has a direct message for his team that rings true for the entire student body on campus.

“His message has been basically to be smart and stay educated on the subject,” Whaley said. “Read up on what’s going on so you won’t be clueless about what’s going on. Basically, he just wants us to be smart if we want to have a season.”

Nobody is hungrier on the roster than Whaley, who enjoyed a breakout season last winter but still has plenty to prove.

Whaley averaged 13.8 points and 8.7 rebounds in the final six games, adding 15 blocks as a staple in the Huskies’ lineup.

“Me and coach Hurley have talked about it a couple times … I still have a lot of momentum from finishing strong last year to build off of,” he said. “People are going to be more ready for me now.”

Whaley spent a portion of the team's extended break in West Virginia with Carlton and it seemed to pay off for both veterans as Carlton dropped a 20 pounds to improve his agility on the floor.

“I’m just trying to find a weight that’s comfortable for me,” said Carlton, who bulked up last off-season but often found himself in foul trouble during his junior campaign.

A talented incoming class not only makes the Huskies stronger up front, but will push Carlton and Whaley for minutes. True freshmen Adam Sanogo and Javonte Brown-Ferguson are strong additions to the front line, as is redshirt freshman Richie Springs.

“Having a deep frontcourt makes everybody better,” Carlton said.

The same could be said for having Hurley and his coaching staff on board. The senior trio saw some rough days when they first arrived in Storrs during the Kevin Ollie era, but things have turned around with a new leader at the helm.

“My freshman year, coming in, it was like a dark mood and we didn’t know if the coaches were going to stay or what was going to happen,” Whaley said. “We didn’t know who was going to leave for the NBA and you would be hanging out with certain people. But now, everybody is together, everybody is on the same page. Coach Hurley, his main thing coming in was working on the culture. This is a team that everybody is together, everybody is on the same page as the coach.”

With the Huskies coming off their first winning season in three years and returning to the Big East after a seven-year absence, expectations are high for the four-time national champs. Whether they meet these expectations will have a lot to do with Carlton, Whaley, and Polley leading by example throughout the uncertain season ahead.