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Dom Amore: In a region of champions, Dan Hurley's UConn Huskies are the dynasty in residence

Dom Amore, Hartford Courant on

Published in Basketball

BOSTON — Through the gates near Pesky’s Pole and up the right field line, the UConn men’s basketball team swaggered into Fenway Park, right into the middle of The Greatest Rivalry in Sports.

In this part of the world, at least in this column, that’s an official title that’s still valid, even if Red Sox-Yankees is currently a rivalry in recession. By October, for all we know, it could be roaring back, front and center in the lunch counter and coffee shop discourse across the state. There’s a void in Connecticut’s summer without the angst.

But on as perfect a day as a June Saturday in Boston could be, Yankees fans and Red Sox fans at Fenway could tap their cups of beer and agree on something and admire UConn’s dominance in the vast, title-steeped region covering Storrs North and Storrs South. Then they could put their beers down and ask Dan Hurley to sign on the back or belly of their tee shirts. Joe Castiglione, the Hamden guy who has been voice of the Red Sox for over 40 years, joked the Huskies will be more popular than ever in Boston, now that Hurley turned down the Los Angeles Lakers.

“It was good to go have lunch here, and these guys got a standing ovation,” Hurley said. “They got a sense of the bigness of this thing, how big the program is for people who haven’t been a part of it and what the bar is when the champs go out in public.”

The bar in this part of the world is not set at winning a championship. Championships are like beers at the ballparks in New York, Boston and points in between, you don’t stop with one. Or two.

Alex Karaban, who represented his team on the bump and delivered a strike, has grown up with it in Southborough, 35 miles down the Mass Pike. He’s not old enough to remember when the Sox were “cursed” or the Patriots hapless or the Celtics coming to grips with who was or wasn’t “walking through that door.” His Boston sports life experiences, 2002 to the present, includes five of the six Patriots titles, four Red Sox championships, a Celtics championship with another on the way (because who ever heard of blowing a 3-0 lead in a seven-game series?), and one Bruins Stanley Cup.

“It’s best sports town out there,” Karaban said, “I mean, based on the championships. I don’t follow baseball that much, but you knew when the Red Sox were winning the World Series, the Patriots, the dynasty they had, the Celtics. It’s special being around winning franchises.”

New York has had a few dynasties, too, but it will be up to Hurley and Hassan Diarra to speak to all that when the Huskies are honored at Yankee Stadium on July 6, when maybe the a Yankees-Red Sox game will have more juice.

The back-to-back champs at least reintroduced Fenway’s faithful, the ones faithful enough not to sell their tickets to Yankees fans on the secondary market, of the look, the talk and the walk of champions.

It is rare to walk into the Red Sox clubhouse and see so little in the way of star power as is the case now. Owner John Henry has ruffled some feathers when he said Red Sox fans’ expectations have become too high. “Because fans expect championships almost annually,” he said. “They easily become frustrated and are not going to buy into what the odds actually are: 1-in-20, 1-in-30.”

 

After going from 1918 to 2004 without one, Boston fans of a certain age know the odds all too well. But fans of any age could have reasonably expected the Red Sox, with their sold-out ballpark and prominence in a huge market, to keep their generational player, Mookie Betts, for a generation. They do it their way, and that way changes as they change regimes and philosophies, always supposedly ahead of the curve. They do have some good young players, Jarren Duran comes to mind, and more on the way, and with three wild cards available the longer they stay around .500 the better the chance they could sneak into the playoffs and get people in Boston old-school fired up for a crack at the Yankees.

Sports’ ultimate dynasty, the Yankees have been waiting since 2009 for championship No. 28, but they don’t lack for star power with Juan Soto and Aaron Judge, both north of 1.000 in on base-plus slugging at the top of the lineup and Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole about to return. They’re good enough to win it all, but being good enough and winning it all are two different things.

At this fixed moment in time, UConn men’s basketball is the resident dynasty in New York and New England, the organization that has figured out how to get the right players under shifting rules and knows what to do with them. Being good enough and doing it are one and the same at UConn at this fleeting moment – a moment not to be taken for granted. The Huskies have six championships since 1999, the women’s team has 11 since 1995. If there is such a thing as a dynasty in college basketball, these qualify.

But Hurley, after spurning the Lakers, has his sights set higher. Red Auerbach’s Celtics, Joe Torre’s Yankees, Bill Belichick’s Patriots and John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins are among the peaks of sustained dominance to which he now aspires. Wooden, who won 10 titles between 1964 and 75, is the only coach to win three in a row in this sport.

“There’s a chance to do something that hasn’t been done since the 70s,” Hurley said. “And there are two more rounds (in the NCAA Tournament) now, so you’re trying to do something that has never been done since the Tournament expanded and join those historic teams. The UCLA program is the biggest ever in college and (Wooden) was the greatest coach, so that’s a lot of motivation.”

Hurley has a picture of Wooden in his office, says he’s read everything ever written by or about him, and his father was a disciple of Wooden’s ways. There was a time, if you’re old enough to remember, when it seemed UCLA would go on winning forever, but its program has won one title since 1975. There was a time when it looked like Geno Auriemma’s 12th title was just a matter of time, and it probably still is, but No. 11 came eight years ago. The Yankees don’t win every year, no matter what stars they grow or acquire, nor do the Red Sox, no matter how much smarter they are than others in the room, nor the Celtics, when Larry Bird and Kevin McHale aren’t waiting to enter the room. Even the Belichick-Tom Brady era had its expiration date down the road in Foxborough.

Right now, Hurley’s Huskies have that look, like these best of times will last forever. Enjoy them, enjoy idyllic days like Saturday in Boston for all they are worth.

“Yes, we do have a dynasty,” Karaban said. “The dynasty’s not over yet. We’re going to keep building on what we’ve done already.”

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

 

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