How UConn’s Dan Hurley became the biggest coaching personality in college basketball

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In the back corridor of the TD Garden, Dan Hurley breathed a deep sigh of relief.

The Huskies’ sixth-year head coach was in tears earlier in the day thinking about the trip to UConn and the pressure of pursuing the first back-to-back national championships in men’s college basketball since Florida in 2006 and 2007. ,

Saturday night in downtown Boston, Hurley got a moment to smile and bask in the greatness of his program, which continued to rewrite history with a stunning 30-0 shutout en route to a 77-52 victory. Illinois To punch a ticket to a second consecutive Final Four.

“I’m a blocker,” Hurley told Fox Sports. “I laugh, I scream and I cry. It’s all day long,” Jim Valvano said.

“Obviously, you put a lot of yourself into this job, a lot of yourself emotionally into your players and your organization. Physically, these seasons are long and when you really go for it like that We are, so you get filled with emotion. You leave the hotel and there are hundreds of UConn fans cheering you on on the way to get on the bus to get here. [to the arena] to advance to their second consecutive Final Four. And then these things must be going on in your mind that maybe this will be my last year of coaching my son. [Andrew], i want cam spencer [a transfer] and stephen castle [a freshman] Till the final four. This team deserves Phoenix. You get emotional going through that.”

All that underlying hunger and excitement is evident when Hurley’s team steps onto the court. The Huskies shot 10 of 30 in the first half against the Illini and then scored 25 unanswered points to start the second half. The 30–0 run – starting in the first half – was the program’s longest run in a game in 34 years. And, it happened on an evening when first-team All-American Tristan Newton recorded no field goals and UConn shot 3 of 17 from 3-point territory.

“We know it’s not normal to go back-to-back,” said second-year student Alex Karaban, one of five Huskies who scored in double figures in the 25-point Elite-Eight win. “But there isn’t a single normal person in this locker room.”

What UConn has accomplished through four games in this tournament is nothing ordinary.

The Huskies’ +111 point differential is the fourth-highest mark of any team through the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament. The only teams with a higher point differential: 1993 Kentucky: +124 (lost in Final Four), 1999 Duke: +120 (lost in title game) and 1996 Kentucky: +113 (won title).

UConn is the only team in sports history to win 10 consecutive NCAA Tournament games by more than 13 points. The Huskies have won 18 games by more than 20 points this season, and 15 of them by more than 25 points, the most of any Division 1 team this season.

We are witnessing one of the greatest seasons in NCAA men’s basketball history, and Hurley doesn’t hesitate to say it, and shows it in his approach. When he threw his hands in the air to cheer the UConn-heavy crowd with less than four minutes remaining and his team leading by 30 on Saturday night, you could see why he was the perfect match for that school. Is what fans call “The Basketball”. Capital of the world.”

That marriage led to the rebirth of the Blue Bloods, and Hurley has become one of the biggest coaching figures in the game today.

“I just wanted to celebrate with my fans,” Hurley said. “Dave Benedict [UConn’s athletic director] Hurley, being a mid-major coach, saw something in me that made my skin grow thick… Then there’s that fiery personality that is a perfect fit for this fan base. You can’t have an empty suit in there with these guys. You must have a monster on the shore in Connecticut. At the same time, we are a program where our players have a lot of confidence and a lot of swag. Our fan base is just as obnoxious on a social level. That’s why everyone hates us.

“It was a chance to celebrate with them because right now our fan base and our organization… it’s us against the world of college basketball, and I wanted to celebrate with them a little bit.”

When Hurley talks about thick skin, he’s referring to his father Bob Sr., who won 26 state championships at St. Anthony High School in New Jersey, as well as his brother Bobby, who was a two-time national champion at Duke. Are. Now the head coach of Arizona State, he won’t have to travel far to support his brother in next weekend’s Final Four.

Now, Hurley is the superstar in the family, silencing his doubters and, in the process, fooling those who question UConn’s status on college basketball’s blue-blood pedestal. He knows that not everyone likes him. He understands that his boisterous behavior on the sideline rubs some opposing coaches the wrong way. And he doesn’t care – he just keeps winning.

“If I’m one of them [faces of the sport], I’m probably good because I’m authentic,” Hurley said. “I’m basically a high school coach masquerading at the college level. I don’t really care what people think about my intensity or passion. It obviously reflects on my team in how we play. We don’t cheat. We don’t lie. We are all about the right things. Just sometimes, I’m an ass.

“When your defense is excellent, which is ours, and your offense is elite, which is ours, we are not flawed in any particular way. It makes you as bulletproof as possible.”

Perhaps no player exemplifies those qualities better than Donovan Clingan, the Huskies’ lead big man, who shares in his coach’s swagger and chose to stay in his home state to play for Hurley and the Huskies. Is.

Clingan was named the East Region’s Most Outstanding Player with a total of 22 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks and three steals in the win over Illinois. After the game, Hurley immediately praised Clingan, saying that he is an example of why everything has blended so well in Storrs, as a guy who is on the “Gets Us” meter with Connecticut’s fan base. Would be 10/10, he deserves it. There is only one way for this team – to win.

“We like the challenge of it,” Hurley said. “It’s what gets you out of bed in the morning, it’s being judged by the greatest players of all time. But we’re all winners, man. It’s the relationship they have with each other, and the confidence they have with See you on the court.

“We played with such energy and intensity as if we had never achieved any great feat in the game.”

And that’s why these Huskies are in territory that very few have entered, and that’s why Hurley says he’s fully embracing becoming one of the faces of college basketball.

John Fant is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for Fox Sports. He covers sports in a variety of capacities, ranging from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the Big East Digital Network to providing on-field commentary for 68 Media Networks. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta,

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