UConn coach Dan Hurley’s recipe for success: passion, tough love and player respect

UConn forward Alex Karaban said coach Dan Hurley is “one of the funniest people I’ve ever met and he’s just super easy to connect with.” (Photo by Bennett Silvyn/Cronkite News)

Forward Alex Karaban said coach Dan Hurley is “one of the funniest people I’ve ever met and he’s just super easy to connect with.” (Photo by Bennett Silvyn/Cronkite News)

GLENDALE – UConn men’s basketball is on the brink of becoming a college basketball blue blood.

With five national championships and a steady production of top talent, from Kemba Walker to Shabazz Napier, the Huskies are joining the ranks of the elite. And Dan Hurley is the perfect coach to lead them.

“A winner,” freshman guard Stephon Castle said Sunday.

A victory over Purdue Monday night in the Men’s NCAA Tournament title game would be Hurley’s second straight championship in just six seasons in Storrs, where he has found the secret sauce of passion, tough love and reverence from his players.

Forward Alex Karaban is not surprised by his coach’s success.

“He’s really a winner,” he said. “He’s won at countless places and he’s been a winner as a player and comes from a winning family. I think now is just perfect for him (because) he’s getting the recognition that he deserves.”

He’s a winner with a big personality. Everywhere he goes, eyes are on him. From the countless expressions to the exaggerated and dramatic flailing of his arms to the cracking of jokes in practice and press conferences, Hurley is one of one.

That passion is contagious and players are fully committed to the coach who earned the Naismith Coach of the Year crown Sunday.

“I’m a testament to just the power of having the influence of having an incredible coach in your life who happens to be your father, too,” Hurley said Sunday after accepting the award with his family by his side. “The power of having that incredible coach who pushes you and teaches you to get the most out of yourself and teaches you how to compete and strive and push and not make excuses.

“Then I had to find empathy and compassion on my own, because that’s not really my dad’s strength.”

Laughter filled the room.

“But all of that other stuff, you crushed it! Thanks, Dad.”

Hurley comes from basketball royalty. His dad, Robert Hurley Sr., was a legendary high school basketball coach at powerhouse St. Anthony High School in New Jersey. His resume speaks for itself with 28 state championships and three USA Today National Coach of the Year titles.

And the family tree doesn’t end there.

Dan Hurley’s older brother, Bobby, had a standout collegiate career at Duke University where he won two straight national championships under legendary coach Mike Krzyzewski and is the NCAA all-time assist leader with 1,076. Bobby Hurley then became the coach at Buffalo and is now the coach at Arizona State.

After playing at Seton Hall, Dannty Hurley began his coaching career under his father at St. Anthony. From there, things took off.

After serving six years as the coach at Rhode Island, where he had two NCAA Tournament berths and an NIT berth, he landed the opportunity to take his talent to Storrs and take over, at the time, a struggling UConn program.

Despite his success, he said he is still learning from his brother and father.

“I think, number one, we talked constantly about the position, right?” Dan Hurley said about the conversations the three have. “All the tactics, the psychology, leadership, the player development piece, how long you’re practicing, maybe some wrinkles and things that we both are doing on offense or defense that we like.”

Andrew Hurley, the son of UConn coach Dan Hurley, addresses the media in the locker room and talks about his experience playing under his father. (Photo by Bennett Silvyn/Cronkite News)

The bloodlines are strong. His son, Andrew, is a senior guard on the team, and his nephew, Bobby, plays at ASU.

“He humanizes me a little bit,” Andrew Hurley said. “I don’t know what he does in the locker room when I’m on like a heater and I’m being a completely brutal ass to everybody. I don’t know if he goes in the locker room and endears himself to these guys by crushing me and saying, ‘Yeah, he’s the worst,’ or if he goes in there and says, ‘Hey, guys, he loves you, he just cares.’

He added with a smile, “I don’t really know what’s going on back there. I don’t know if these guys will tell me either before it’s over.”

Andrew Hurley said his father does a good job of separating his work life from his family time at home. He is grateful for the ability to learn the game from a basketball mastermind.

“He would always be outside with me trying to teach me moves like finger rolls, crossovers, whatever it was, he was always trying to teach me,” Andrew Hurley said.

Karaban said Danny Hurley on a personal level is different from Danny Hurley on the court.

“(He’s) honestly super chill and very laid back. He’s one of the funniest people I’ve ever met and he’s just super easy to connect with,” the sophomore said. “You never realize who coach Hurley is until you meet him in person and he’s a special person. I love him.”

He can also be tough.

“I remember in practice he made us lay on the floor for four minutes for defensive (struggles) but it works out for us,” Castle said.

On the brink of winning his second national title in as many years, Dan is still the same guy from Jersey CityL tough, caring and unfiltered.

Even with all of the tournament success over the past two years, the Huskies must be ready for the hardest test they’ve had all year in Purdue. The Boilermakers are a team led by 7-foot-4 and back-to-back Wooden Player of the Year senior center Zach Edey, who is a matchup nightmare for anyone.

When you partner the NCAA leader in points per game with sophomore point guard Braden Smith, who averages a whopping 7.5 assists a game, it causes opposing defenses stress and requires an almost perfect game to stop Purdue on offense.

But the Huskies have a presence down low, too in sophomore center Donovan Cllingan.

“It means a lot more that he’s 7-2,” Dan Hurley said. “To have him absolutely exceed expectations, just absolutely knock it out of the park, be on the cusp of being one of the greatest players to ever put the uniform on, as a Bristol kid, that’s how you want it to work out, exactly the way you hoped it would.”

The battle of the bigs will be in full force Monday night in State Farm Stadium. But Hurley’s stage presence, not to mention his success, might be the biggest scene-stealer of them all.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Addison Kalmbach expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. Kalmbach has interned in broadcast operations at FOX Sports and as a digital reporter with PHOENIX Magazine and Detroit City FC. He also has done freelance work for R1S1 Sports.

Bennett Silvyn BEH-nit SIL-vin
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Bennett Silvyn expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism and a minor in business, marketing and sports management. Silvyn has interned in marketing and social media for the Arizona Sports and Entertainment Commission, as a reporter for Arizona Foothills Magazine, in sponsorships for the Arizona Rattlers and in social and digital media for FC Tucson. Silvyn has also reported for the Walter Cronkite Sports Network and The State Press.