Nov. 5—STORRS — Sophomore Donovan Clingan packed away his national championship ring shortly after receiving it in mid-October.
Alex Karaban, Clingan’s roommate and frontcourt teammate, gave his ring to his parents at First Night Festivities on Oct. 13 to take home to Southborough, Mass.
UConn also has put away last season’s accomplishments.
“The ring has been locked up since we got it,” Clingan said after Sunday’s practice. “I haven’t taken it out. Tomorrow starts a new journey. We’re just trying to accomplish the same thing, if not more.”
The 2023-24 season gets underway on Monday when No. 6 UConn hosts Northern Arizona at 6:30 p.m. at Gampel Pavilion. A member of the Big Sky Conference, the Lumberjacks are coming off a 12-23 season during which they reached the conference tournament championship game.
“We’ve been working hard all summer and through the fall, so we’re just anxious and excited to get out there,” graduate guard Tristen Newton said.
Prior to the start, there will be a national championship banner unveiling ceremony, which will be more of a big deal for the fans than the Huskies.
A title banner was hung on the wall at the Werth Center practice facility days after the Huskies won the national championship in April.
“We’ve tried to minimize our role tomorrow night as much as possible, with clothes that Nike wants us to wear and participating in the unveiling,” coach Dan Hurley said. “I don’t want to sound ignorant or ungrateful, but the last thing that any of us are thinking about is the banner.
“That’s for the students, our fans, the families of the players that are here from last year’s team. This is a whole new team. We’ve had our banner up (in the practice facility). I’ve been looking at it the whole time.”
Clingan, a key reserve last season and now a starter, is expected to play. He’s looked sharp in practice since returning early last week from a foot injury that kept him sidelined for a month. His minutes may be limited.
“I’m feeling good,” Clingan said. “I’ve been giving everything I’ve got in practice and getting as many reps as I could. I’ll see what coach (Hurley) says tomorrow.”
Hurley says Clingan’s foot is a non-issue.
“Now it’s about the cardio and just managing him, making sure he’s ready to go,” Hurley said.
Monday will be the first of three straight home games against weaker competition for the Huskies, who went undefeated against non-conference foes last season.
After hosting Northern Arizona, UConn will play Stonehill on Saturday and Mississippi Valley State on Nov. 14, both in Hartford, before the schedule grows tougher.
It’s a good opportunity for the Huskies to lay a firm foundation.
“We want to establish our identity with this team and show the work that we’ve put in since June and how hard we’ve worked,” Hurley said. “Our focus has been on this opener and playing a good mid-major team with shooting and good frontcourt players.”
Hurley is set on his starting five of graduate transfer guard Cam Spencer, freshman guard Stephon Castle, redshirt sophomore forward Karaban, Newton and Clingan.
His rotation beyond that group still needs to be figured out. Freshmen will be a prominent part of the bench crew.
“We’ve got a pretty good idea of how we want to do it in terms of not having too many freshmen on the court at the same time, if possible, and trying to support them with older players,” Hurley said.
If the opening game goes according to plan for UConn, Hurley should be able to get a good hard look at his team, including junior Samson Johnson who stood out during the preseason.
Overall, Hurley feels good about his Huskies, especially on the offensive end.
“We’ve got a chance to hopefully weather some defensive issues with young players by being a better offense than last year in terms of making the first shot,” Hurley said. “We’ve got people that can drive the ball, post the ball, good ball screen players, three-point shooters and we can play with pace. We have a lot of different things that we haven’t run in the past that are in and that we’ve been working on since June.
“So, we’re ready to go.”
And, when the game ends, the players just may sneak a peek at the program’s fifth national title banner hanging in Gampel Pavilion.
“After the game, we’ll probably look at it a little more,” Karaban said. “RIght now, we’re just so locked in on the new year. … We’ll always look at the past and always treasure it. We’re just excited to move on to this year and just try to replicate what we did last year for this year’s team.”
No. 6 UCONN vs. NORTHERN ARIZONA
Location: Gampel Pavilion, Storrs
Tip time: 6:30 p.m. (Fox Sports App)
2022-23 records: UConn 31-8, Northern Arizona 12-23
Series: First meeting
Probable starters: UConn, 6-5 graduate guard Tristen Newton, 6-6 graduate guard Cam Spencer, 6-6 fr. guard Stephon Castle, 6-8 r-so. forward Alex Karaban, 7-2 so. center Donovan Clingan
Northern Arizona, 5-10 so. Guard Oakland Fort, 6-5 jr. guard Liam Lloyd, 6-6 jr. guard Trent McLaughlin, 6-7 r-jr forward Carson Towt, 6-10 jr. forward Carson Basham
Quotable: Karaban comparing this season to last season at the start: “It’s very different. The target, of course, is way bigger on us this year. We have a completely new team. We’re a lot younger compared to last year’s team. … We’re just getting ready for that target and all the attention on us.”
Noteworthy: UConn is 5-0 in season openers in Hurley’s tenure in Storrs. … Lumberjacks return two starters. … Towt is Northern Arizona’s top returning player, averaging 10.1 points and 7.8 rebounds last season. … Lumberjacks picked to finish 8th in the Big Sky preseason poll. … First-year assistant coach Tim Russo is a New Canaan High School graduate. He was a graduate assistant on Hurley’s support staff last season. … McLaughlin played at Central Connecticut State University before transferring to NAU. … Karaban and Spencer enter the season with career 3-point FG percentages of over 40 percent, checking in at 40.2 and 40.5, respectively. … The Huskies are riding a 17-game non-conference winning streak … Up next: UConn hosts Stonehill Saturday at noon at the XL Center in Hartford.