From Tempe to Storrs, Connecticut: UConn A.D. David Benedict embraces success of basketball teams

Connecticut athletic director David Benedict, cutting a piece of the net after the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament National Championship game in 2023, was a former associate athletic director for development at ASU. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

PHOENIX – From the NCAA Women’s Final Four in Cleveland to the NCAA Men’s Final Four in Phoenix, Connecticut athletic director David Benedict had his hands full supporting both Huskies teams en route to their respective Final Fours.

He wouldn’t have it any other way.

Although the women lost to Iowa Friday night, the men are still alive with a Saturday night game against Alabama. Since taking the athletic director position in 2016, the Tempe native has watched the Huskies women win a title in his first year, and the men win a fifth national title in 2023.

The school’s success has led to speculation about Benedict’s future, including discussion that he could be a candidate for the same job at ASU, where he worked from 1996 to 2006 as an associate athletic director for development.

“I’m the current UConn athletic director, but beyond that, there’s nothing more than speculation,” Benedict told Cronkite News Friday. “I’m 100% focused on what I’m doing at the University of Connecticut.”

The Tempe native has a deep appreciation for the long-term accomplishments of the men’s and women’s basketball programs, which made the Final Four together in the same year for a fifth time

“Look, it’s so hard to get to the Final Four,” Benedict said, “I’ve been fortunate to do it multiple times with both of our men and women at UConn and there’s obviously been a tradition of success previously at UConn.

“This is part of what we do at the University of Connecticut, but to be part of that, to see it happening at the same time, but also having a tradition in the University of Connecticut, the only place that has won both the men’s and women’s tournament.”

Benedict’s hectic travel schedule of going from city to city to support both programs is a tall task, to say the least. For the first time as athletic director, he witnessed both programs under the same bright lights.

UConn men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley faced his challenges while traveling to Phoenix, too, along with his team. The Huskies plane to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport was was scheduled for 6:00 p.m. EDT, but mechanical issues caused a seven-hour delay

During Thursday’s media availability, Hurley said he had a combined four hours of sleep, with two on the plane and two at his hotel. He also mentioned his secret to looking energized despite the travel difficulties by saying, “That’s why God made caffeine.”

UConn basketball coach Dan Hurley, left, with athletic director David Benedict have teamed to build one of the strongest men’s basketball programs in the country. (Photo by Mark Mirko/Tribune News Service via Getty Images s)

Regardless of the hectic travel schedule for both Hurley and Benedict, they both appreciate the success of the Huskies women’s team despite injuries leading to a shorthanded but deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

“I think you feel confident in the fact that you have two of the best coaches in the country,” Benedict said. “If you look at it from a combination standpoint, I don’t think there’s another institution that has two better coaches leading their men’s and women’s basketball programs.”

The women’s team made the Final Four every year from 2008 to 2022. After Ohio State knocked UConn out of the Sweet 16 the following year, this season proved to be different.

Hurley gave kudos to coach Geno Auriemma’s squad, despite numerous injuries this season, and applauded its consistency and dominance in advancing to the Final Four.

“Just to see it in the building, because you walk by the training room and they have a top-five team in the country that’s hurt and not playing. … I mean, it’s why Geno is one of the best coaches of his generation,” Hurley said.

“Obviously Paige (Bueckers) and the crew, it’s special. To do it with everything that they’ve dealt with the last two years, it’s incredible. Just speaks to a level of Geno and his staff, UConn women’s basketball and why they’ve been the premier program in the country.”

After Friday’s 71-69 loss in a classic against the Iowa Hawkeyes led by standout guard Caitlin Clark, Auriemma spoke after the game of how the expectations of the program came to fruition.

“Well, the expectations at UConn are what they are because we created them,” Auriemma said. “Somebody didn’t walk into our building and say, ‘Ok, this is what’s expected of you.’ We’ve put that on ourselves now for the last 30 years.”

Although the women’s team was eliminated Friday night, the Huskies still remain a dominant force in the women’s game. Now, Hurley is trying to replicate the sheer dominance of Auriemma with his own team.

After being in Cleveland Friday and returning to Phoenix for Saturday’s men’s game with the Alabama Crimson Tide, Benedict doesn’t take the hectic scheduling for granted.

“I’m sure a lot of people would like to be in the position,” Benedict said. “I’m having to try to keep it up and get around the country to follow their teams as they’re marching to the Final Four.

“I’m very fortunate that we’re in the position we’re in.”

Hayden Cilley HAY-din SIL-lee (he/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Hayden Cilley expects to graduate in December 2024 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Cilley covered the Phoenix Mercury in 2022 for The Next Hoops and is writing and podcasting about the Mercury for PHNX Sports.