Dom Amore: Good vibrations pour from UConn men's basketball team, but this work of art is not quite done yet
Published in Basketball
HOUSTON — The band blared and the fans filled the lower bowl at NRG Stadium as the UConn men put on a show during their open practice Friday; there were smiles and laughter. Dan Hurley, hands behind his back, just watched and smiled like an artist admiring his finished painting.
The prep work is about done, and so is the building. The UConn men’s basketball team is no longer a work in progress, but a finished product. Over the next three days, at this ultimate gallery, the Final Four, it could be judged a masterpiece.
Team building, at this level, is as much art as science, and the Huskies, who are set to play Miami in the national semifinals on Saturday night are a unique creation. Strokes of confidence, swagger, intensity, looseness, leadership all blend together and, during this NCAA Tournament, have sprung off the canvas. A winning vibe beats relentlessly through the Huskies now.
“I think our chemistry is through the roof right now, just the love that we have for one another,” freshman Alex Karaban said. “Something special is brewing here, it’s the most unique team I’ve played on.”
Some of it came by design. Hurley came to the obvious conclusion after last season’s first-round NCAA Tournament defeat that the team needed to be changed — not rebuilt, but different shades added, some erased.
“We felt the flaws in roster construction,” Hurley said. “I knew exactly what everyone’s role needed to be. I knew exactly what we needed to get in the (transfer) portal.”
He needed a point guard who could shoot and score: Tristen Newton. He needed a sharpshooter who could bring offense off the bench and not shy away from shooting after a miss: Joey Calcaterra. He needed a backup point guard who could defend: Hassan Diarra. And he needed someone with positive NCAA Tournament experience: Nahiem Alleyne.
Those were the profiles and skill sets, but UConn also needed the personalities to work in harmony.
“Getting the right personalities in your locker room is critical, too,” Hurley said. “Those are two things you learn I think every year on this job and get better at every year.”
Hurley was satisfied with what he assembled, but the college basketball world was not convinced. The Huskies were unranked when the season began, but won their first 14 games and were suddenly championship contenders. Then they lost six of eight and were suddenly burnt toast.
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