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By declining Lakers offer, Dan Hurley proves he's built UConn into premier basketball destination

Kels Dayton, Hartford Courant on

Published in Basketball

Six years ago, back when it was still “coming,” this would have been almost impossible to conceive.

UConn, stuck then in the sterile, conglomerate killjoy that was the American Athletic Conference, had seen the light go out of its basketball blueblood eyes, which were glazing over as they witnessed conference losses to the likes of Tulsa and Southern Methodist University. They watched on, as these random, listless, basketball-apathetic vagabonds somehow became equals. Nothing made sense anymore.

Dan Hurley remembers “waking up in weird places, weird states,” as he told The Athletic in 2023. “Not exactly rivalry matchups like Providence and Villanova. We were in Tulsa.”

UConn men’s basketball wasn’t the program it had been from the mid-to-late 90s through 2014, the tough-as-nails northeast upstart that built itself brick-by-brick into a perennial basketball power, validated by not one, not two, but four national championships.

It had been rudely exiled and shut out of a major conference by realignment, cast aside as if its hoops dominance meant nothing, left to fend for itself on those cold, dark winter nights in Tulsa and Wichita, its future unknown, dangerously teetering on the verge of irrelevance.

Hurley had been hired to revive the program, and it seemed like he was the perfect fit. You could squint and see a younger version of Jim Calhoun roaming the sidelines, barking at everyone in sight, willing his teams to victory almost by toughness, intensity and force of personality alone.

It hasn’t been easy, but no one could have ever predicted how it would turn out.

Now, six years later, UConn’s up to six national titles, back-to-back banners, an unwavering status as one of the sport’s blue bloods and– incredibly, its head coach has now turned down job offers from Kentucky and the Lakers to stay in Storrs.

The Basketball Capital of the World? Yeah, go ahead and build the legislative building.

For this farm school, from this small, often-overlooked state in the northeast, to have grown from Yankee Conference also-ran to an institution so synonymous with hoops royalty that its coach would willingly spurn $70 million, LeBron James and life in Los Angeles to stay in Storrs, Connecticut– as a Nutmegger, how do you put that into words?

For UConn to be in this place now, after all it had endured during its detention in the American Athletic Conference, is truly astounding. Oh, and Hurley’s returning to Storrs with a loaded roster gunning for an unprecedented modern-era three-peat?

 

This kind of stuff only happens to your favorite team in a video game.

Whenever any analyst went on TV or social media to discuss Hurley’s impending decision after news broke about L.A.’s interest, one recurring thought appeared:

“But it’s the Lakers. It’s the marquee job in the NBA. How can you turn down that franchise?”

The details of coaching an aging LeBron, being required to draft his underqualified son, managing all of those egos, slogging through an 82-game season with unrealistic expectations aside– the point remained. It’s the Lakers. One of the most storied franchises in sports. The biggest basketball job in the world.

But what Hurley has done has made Connecticut that type of place. The type of place you turn down Kentucky and the Lakers for. The type of place that chases three-peats. That reaches for milestones accomplished only by John Wooden. That builds into one of the most special programs that has ever existed in men’s college basketball.

Storrs has been known as the ‘Basketball Capital of the World’ for years, but now, Hurley’s proven it’s a destination city.

He’s done all of it in an era of unwieldly change, with NIL, the transfer portal, revenue sharing, and antitrust lawsuits changing the landscape almost every day.

It’s all been so dizzying, like waking up in a hotel room in Tulsa in December after a loss to a conference opponent.

Except, as UConn fans would agree, this is the good kind of disorienting.

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©2024 Hartford Courant. Visit at courant.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

 

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