STORRS, Conn. (AP) — UConn coach Dan Hurley has enjoyed an offseason of celebrating a national championship. He says the best part of his job is building a contender, not admiring the finished product.
That gives him a lot to enjoy this fall as Connecticut rebuilds, looking to fill a void left by the loss of the three biggest stars from last season’s 31-8 team that ran through the NCAA Tournament, winning each game by an average of 20 points before a dominant win over San Diego State in the title game.
“Becoming is always better for me than being,” Hurley said. “The chase for me is always the exhilarating thing, the exciting thing. The accomplishment fades quickly in your mind. Very quickly it gets to the process that you love.”
Part of the process this year was to show his players film of the Florida teams that won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007.
The Huskies hope to stay on top by building an offense around returning 7-foot-2 sophomore post Donovan Clingan, who showed a potential to dominate on both ends of the floor last year while backing up Adama Sanogo — the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Tournament.
Clingan, who played just 13 minutes a game last season and averaged 6.9 points, suffered a foot injury last month. The team has been cautious with his rehab, but Hurley is hopeful his star will be healthy in time to lead the Huskies against Northern Arizona in the season opener on Nov. 6.
“The evolution for (Clingan) is to demand the ball and demand that his teammates play up to a certain level,” Hurley said. “I mean sometimes you’ve got to be the bad guy too. You just can’t be kind of the jolly giant. Sometimes you’ve got to be the angry giant.”
The Huskies returning core is joined by transfer Cam Spencer, who averaged more than 13 points a game at Rutgers last season. They also bring in a consensus top-five recruiting class led by point 6-foot-6 point guard Stephon Castle from Georgia, named this week as the Big East’s preseason freshman of the year.
The class also includes 6-7 wing Jayden Ross, 6-4 guard Solomon Ball, 6-7 wing Jaylin Stewart and 7-foot post Youssouf Singare.
“I feel like they’re ahead of a lot of freshmen just because of the work coach put us through throughout this whole year and the work that they’ve put in themselves,” Clingan said. There’s no freshman in particular that sticks out to me. They all work hard. They are all going to be big important factors to winning this year.”
Back in April, Hurley was facing a major rebuild of his team just 17 days after winning that fifth national championship. Seven players with eligibility remaining announced plans to leave the program or at least test their options. That seems a long time ago now.
The Huskies are ranked No. 6 in the nation, but picked to finish third in the Big East’s preseason coaches poll behind Marquette and Creighton. They got a jump on the season with a trip in August to Spain, which Spencer said helped the newcomers learn Hurley’s complicated offense that includes more than 130 offensive sets.
“You kind of get thrown into the fire and you learn from mistakes,” Spencer said. “But, once you get the hang of it — you’re running it every day in practice.”
Hurley said this year’s offensive will be different from those the team ran last season, but still expects to have nine or 10 Huskies to be in his rotation.
“This whole season for us is going to come down to the bench,” he said. “My best team always have that depth that go nine deep. You saw how fresh we were in March because of the depth. I think our starting five is going to be as good as anyone’s. It’s can we get the bench.”
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