How UConn men's basketball coach Dan Hurley will manage roster built entirely with his recruits

STORRS — The UConn men's basketball team is officially Dan Hurley's now.

Not that it hasn't been since Hurley took over the head coaching reins in March 2018. But he inherited just about all the players on his first UConn team, and a couple of those players (Isaiah Whaley and Tyler Polley) remained with the team all the way through last season.

Now, all 13 scholarship players are guys Hurley either recruited out of high school, or Europe, or out of the transfer portals.

Hurley doesn't put a whole lot of stock in It.

"I would say by the second year, whether you recruited the guys or not, they do feel like their yours," he noted. "Year One, you kind of feel like, 'What's going on?' It feels a little foreign. But once you go to war and go to battle with the group of men, you've won together, you've lost together, you've kind of fought as hard as you can together, you feel like their yours."

Perhaps, but it's clear Hurley didn't always jibe with players he inherited. Kwintin Williams and Sidney Wilson departed the program. Hurley clashed with Christian Vital for their first couple of years together, until they made peace late in Vital's senior year and he emerged as a true force. Josh Carlton went from starter to backup before transferring to Houston and blossoming.

Even Whaley and Polley, for all their contributions to the program, may not have exactly fit Hurley's mold, in terms of what he wants to do offensively.

Again, Hurley, ever the contrarian, somewhat dismisses that latter notion. He pointed out that he's always been flexible with his roster composition, even playing Tristan Thompson, a future NBA center, as a small forward while coaching Saint Benedict's Prep in New Jersey.

"This doesn't feel much different," he insisted. "I feel like we knew that there were some blind spots with the returning team that we need to fill with older players, to take advantage of Adama (Sanogo). Take advantage of how good Andre (Jackson) is at this point, and obviously Jordan (Hawkins). We just needed to bring in some older guys that could give us a better chance to hit the ground running this year."

He realizes there are challenges, one of the reasons he wasn't at all pleased with how his team looked in its first practice on Tuesday and pushed back a session with the local media to Wednesday, giving the team a second chance to fall under his good graces before he met the press.

He's named Sanogo and Jackson team captains, a first for Hurley at UConn, something he admits was a "coaching mistake" not implementing last season with his veteran players. He expects Jordan Hawkins to rise from last year's 5.8 points per game and 33.3 percent 3-point shooting to ... well, something much more.

"From just a technical standpoint, he's one of the best shooters of the ball," Hurley noted. "Not in terms of what he's produced at this point in his career, please add that context. But in terms of the way the ball leaves his hand, there are very few players that have played in a place like this where it leaves his hand as beautifully as it leaves his."

He knows 7-foot-2 freshman Donovan Clingan is on a learning curve, particularly defensively. Asked if he might play Clingan and the 6-9 Sanogo on the floor together at all, Hurley once again harkened back to his Saint Benedict's days, when he teamed Thompson, 6-9 Samardo Samuels and 6-11 Gregory Echenique at times on the same floor.

"I've played bigger lineups before," Hurley noted. "The game was a little different back then. But, we'll see."

Interestingly, Hurley said his vision for this year's team is having Jackson facilitate, with Hawkins and transfer Tristen Newton as scoring wings, a four-man (likely Alex Karaban or Samson Johnson, or maybe Nahiem Alleyne if the Huskies go small) that can space the floor, and Sanogo in the middle with Clingan his backup.

He knows his four transfers (Newton, Alleyne, Hassan Diarra and Joey Calcaterra) will be asked to be where R.J. Cole and Tyrese Martin were after the latter two had already been in the program for 1 1/2 years.

At least one of those transfers — Diarra — has really opened Hurley's eyes so far.

"Just how his personality has helped," Hurley noted. "His confidence and joy, his self-belief, a real competitive spirit, could be really great for our team. He's not a guy you have to try to talk into playing well. He thinks he's the best player on the court every time he gets on the court. You just know he's going to have a role that's going to really impact the team."

Hurley added that Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun, the three-time national-champion coach who sat in on Wednesday's practice (even taking notes), was quick to notice Diarra's "spirit, the amount of plays he's involved in."

"He played at Putnam, PSA Cardinals, EYBL, he's from Queens," Hurley said of Diarra. "He hit the ground running. It's probably tougher for the other guys, but they're adjusting, they're getting there. Much better (Wednesday) than (Tuesday)."

You could say Hassan Diarra is Dan Hurley's favorite type of player. Again, Hurley is contrarian — but only a little.

"My favorite type of player is guys that are excellent players, guys that make the game look easy, incredible talents at the offensive end," Hurley said. "That's my No. 1 favorite. No. 2 is guys that go hard like (Diarra) does. He goes hard. He's got to be a little more cerebral with some things. As attacking and aggressive as he is, he's probably got a little more cerebral (playing) to the attack. But I'll take it all day long. He's all over the court. He pops when you watch his play." @DaveBorges