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Dan Hurley commits to UConn’s future, starts construction of 2024-25 roster as he hunts ‘three-peat’

As fast as he had to turn his mind to the transfer portal and reloading UConn’s roster for a possible three-peat, first head coach Dan Hurley had to answer hundreds of questions about another blue blood, Kentucky, and its high-dollar coaching search.

Of course, Hurley, celebrating his second national championship parade in as many years in Hartford Saturday, would be the top man on the market. If only he had actually been on the market.

“You talk to your agent the whole year, you talk to him more later in the year (and) a lot of the conversations he’s just checking in with you. But he made me aware of that situation and just my family and me and anything that comes forward. It’s like, ‘The only people you should be talking to is UConn because we have no desire to leave here to coach college basketball anywhere else,'” Hurley said.

“Maybe down the road, you hope you can mature enough emotionally to, much later in my career, try to take a shot at the NBA – down the road, way down the road – but I’m not gonna coach anywhere else in college. ,,, Unless UConn doesn’t want me here.”

The portion of the crowd that chanted his name while he prepared to speak at the podium certainly want him here. The rest of the 60,000 in attendance Saturday would almost certainly agree.

On Friday Hurley posted a photo to X, formerly Twitter, of himself lying on the floor in the basketball facility exhausted, right arm wrapped over his eyes. The post was captioned: “Day 1 in the portal …”

“Why would you sleep when you’re this happy?” he said. “When you get to this level of accomplishment, you just barely get enough sleep because you just want to be awake more so you can enjoy it more.”

Sure, some of that lost sleep could have been enjoyable. But most of it was time spent exploring the roster options for next season and taking a look around the transfer portal, which opened nearly a month ago and, he says, motivated him to continue advancing in the tournament so he could avoid it longer.

But the Huskies, like any responsible program, did put out some feelers and expressed interest in available players as they dominated through the NCAA Tournament. One transfer portal target, 6-foot-10, 265-pound former Michigan forward Tarris Reed Jr., a rising junior, made a visit over the weekend and was in attendance for the victory parade.

Quite the recruiting pitch.

“We had some preliminary conversations about the roster and what we anticipated, I think, from a graduation and a going-to-the-NBA standpoint, I think we’re pretty aware of what’s that gonna look like,” Hurley said, noting projections for the future of the freshmen and wanting to return as many champions as he can. “We want to construct the roster in a very similar way to the last two. It worked.”

UConn, with all of its recent success, has become something of a destination spot for transfers.

“Our approach is a little bit different on the visits, there’s a lot of characteristics that we’re looking for, that we want to make sure that people have for us, because we’ve got the best product in college basketball right now. So as much as we need to recruit people right now, we’re also vetting out what our program was,” Hurley said.

“We clearly have all of the resources in place and we’ll continue to do that at UConn, but we’ve got to make sure that it is a two-way street and I think a lot of schools miss on that. They look at just production and numbers and talent. You’re not putting together an All-Star team, you’re putting together a team that’s gotta be able to function.”

Tristen Newton and Cam Spencer, both perfect transfer portal additions, plan to explore the professional route as their college eligibility expires.

Sophomore star, Bristol native, Donovan Clingan was the first domino to fall when he announced his decision to go into the NBA Draft, where he could be a top pick, on Friday. More decisions are expected to come from freshman Stephon Castle, another potential lottery pick, Alex Karaban, a redshirt sophomore who’s been predicted to go in the second round, and Hassan Diarra, a senior with another year of eligibility.

None were ready to come to a decision on Saturday. They are each taking their time, not forcing a timetable on themselves.

“(Clingan’s decision) was clear cut, some other players have got to make a decision that’s more complex,” Hurley said, “and then you also have the players in the program that, you know, does your vision line up with their vision relative to what we’re trying to accomplish next year?”

Here is where those three stand:

Stephon Castle

All signs since he stepped foot on campus signified Castle could, and likely would, be a one-and-done player. He progressed into one of the top freshmen in the country as the season went on and was a key contributor on both ends of the court, specifically on the defensive end where he guarded the opponents’ best perimeter player throughout the NCAA Tournament.

“I’m not sure yet, I’ve still got a lot of conversations to have, but I’ll just wait until the time is right,” Castle said Saturday when he was asked about entering the draft. “It’s not something that’s really bothering me at all, whether I stay or leave I know I’ll be in a great situation. Whether I leave, I could make better for my family. (If) I stay, I can still be coached by the best coach in college basketball. The decision is really not tough for me, it’s really just making the right one.”

“Some of it’s in his control, some of it’s out of his control,” added Hurley, who will meet with Castle early next week.

Castle was projected to No. 8 overall by USA Today and No. 5 by Bleacher Report in mock drafts released just after the NCAA Tournament. ESPN, in its mock posted during the NCAA Tournament, had Castle at No. 14.

“I’d say that there’s some things that I’ll say to him that maybe I should’ve said to (2021 lottery pick James Bouknight) just from a preparedness and the emotional maturity and just going into what that workplace looks like in the NBA,” Hurley said. “I think Steph’s situation, he’s got incredible parental support that will be with him if he chooses to do that, but the intel, I think it was a pretty consensus that that’s what a lottery pick looks like.”

Alex Karaban

Karaban, called the “brain center” of the program by Hurley and “Captain America” by Diarra, has a much tougher decision to make.

“It’s definitely been weighing on me a lot,” he said candidly. “Some days I’m leaning toward one way, other days I’ll move the other way. I’m torn right now. I’m still trying to figure it all out. … And really, I just want to set myself up in the best position that I can (for) my future and at the same time, I have so much love for this school and the program. … It’s gonna be the toughest decision I’ve had to make.”

Karaban has had a few meetings with the coaches and has talked with his family and teammates like Clingan, his league-bound roommate. He plans on reaching out to 2022-23 captain Andre Jackson Jr., selected in the second round and now with the Milwaukee Bucks, for advice.

An increased role as the program goes for a three-peat is a bonus for staying, and the fact that he’s taken enough classes to be able to graduate after three years.

His draft position at this point feels similar to Jackson’s, as a potential second-round pick who is listed on some, but not all, mock drafts.

“There’s a lot there,” Hurley said. “He’s clearly a draft-able NBA prospect. I think for most of these players now with NIL – if you’re going to be a clear-cut, consensus first-round pick and you feel like you’re mature enough emotionally to go into those locker rooms, then I think you’ve got a responsibility to really consider going. If you’re not going to be a consensus clear-cut first-round pick, I think you stay in college. Second round, it’s a tough spot. Up through those mid-30s, there’s no more guaranteed contracts and I think it’s better to be in college than it is on a two-way, in my opinion.”

Hassan Diarra

Diarra, a senior with an option for another year, has given thought to the idea of being on a parade float for a third year in a row. The Texas A&M transfer saw an increased role in his second season with the Huskies and became the Big East Sixth Man of the Year this year after developing his shot and continuing to be a pest defensively.

But he’s not putting any pressure on himself to make a decision.

“Still giving it thought,” he said, considering the situation and what is best for him. “Just (still) having conversations with the coaches and seeing where their mind is at, where my mind is at, and we’ll go from there… (The UConn experience) has been more than I can ask for. It’s been truly amazing and I’m blessed to be a part of this program.”

The decision will likely come down to his role, after two years as a critical option off the bench. In addition to forward Isaiah Abraham, the Huskies are set to bring in a four-star point guard in Ahmad Nowell who could earn himself a starting spot.

“What (Diarra) envisions for himself next year in terms of role has got to be aligned with what ours is,” Hurley said. “I think what’s been effective for us the last two years is that the level of honesty has created great rosters. Because the players that didn’t align with what we viewed for them, they left, we brought in appropriate players in both years and then we won back-to-back championships. We’re just gonna tell the truth with players about where we see them, but we would like to return as many of the players as we can.”