STORRS - There are no points for second place.
Dan Hurley wants to make sure his UConn men’s basketball team understands that goes not only for each game, but each drill they go through as well.
As his first regular season practice at UConn finished up Saturday morning at the Werth Center on the school’s campus, Hurley made that perfectly clear.
The Huskies were struggling to successfully complete a three-man, fast-break weave with the required 23 baskets in two minutes. They reached 22 multiple times but Hurley made it clear that wasn’t good enough. “We are pushing them hard, probably to levels they’re not sure they can get to,” Hurley said.
Finally, on the sixth or seventh attempt, the players appeared to win, though No. 23 came as Tarin Smith lobbed in a floater that may have just beaten or perhaps come just after the buzzer sounded.
After a long pause, with nearly everyone in the gym looking anxiously at Hurley, the coach finally cut the tension. “Count it!” Hurley exclaimed, adding a profanity.
“We’ll know we are where we need to be when we get that drill right the first time,” Hurley said. “I don’t know how many takes that was.” It was just one example of the perfection on the most basic tasks that Hurley expects daily from his new team.
“You build a strong team by having to get through tough practices,” said Hurley, who applied similar principles coaching at Wagner and Rhode Island. “By being put in adverse conditions in practice, kind of like the development of a program.”
The practice was slated to last two hours but ended up taking some two hours and 20 minutes.
“They added the 20 minutes on their own by not practicing up to the level that we expect here at UConn,” Hurley said. “A lot of places that two hours might have been good enough. But not in a place like this, not here, not in a program that I’m coaching.”
Coming off consecutive losing seasons and the ousting of head coach Kevin Ollie, the Huskies are anxious for a turnaround. The players noticed that Hurley’s passion was even greater than it was in the summer during their workouts.
“His intensity is really big. He’s very passionate about the game. As players we have to match and go overboard with his intensity,” guard Alterique Gilbert said.
The Huskies can practice 30 times before their season officially begins. The First Night tradition resumes with an Oct. 12 party with the women’s tream.
UConn will play a closed-door scrimmage against Harvard sometime around Halloween, an exhibition against former Husky Scott Burrell’s Southern Connecticut team Nov. 2, then opens regular season play Nov. 8 against Morehead State at the XL Center.
If Saturday’s practice was any indication, they’ll be working extremely hard each time they enter their practice facility.
Hurley’s almost constant admonishments during practice made that clear.
As a few players appeared to be slightly lackluster with the accuracy of their passes, Hurley bellowed “Is this casual Friday? No, it’s Saturday and this is the first day of practice!” And when the court was run with less than the quickest pace, another reminder was apparently needed. “Our margins are thin. Every second, every half-second, every (damn) millisecond counts,” the coach boomed.
Adams, Yakwe sit out
Guard Jalen Adams missed Saturday’s practice because of an injury to his left pinky finger that he suffered three days earlier. The senior’s hand was cut, requiring a few stitches. “I probably could have practiced today but they just wanted it to heal properly,” Adams said.
Kassoum Yakwe (foot) did not practice either, while Mamadou Diarra (knee) was held out of the majority of the workout.
As for Gilbert, his surgically repaired shoulder appeared to hold up well. “That guy, he’s a soldier. He’s trying to lead even as he’s trying to get the rust off and his conditioning back,” Hurley said.
The Huskies appear to have a collection of talented pieces but the coaching staff is still thinking hard about trying to make those pieces mesh this season.
What to do at the power forward spot remains a major question.
“What keeps me awake at night is what are we going to do at the 4?” Hurley said. “That’s a little bit scary. Do we play Tyler (Polley) and Sid (Wilson) there and try to play small, spread people out and play a fast game? Or do we try to play (Kassoum) Yakwe or Isaiah (Whaley) or Mo (Diarra) there and play big? Or do you try to play it both ways in the course of games, which is not really what you want to do.”