Dan Hurley staying at UConn is a great day for college basketball

The Los Angeles Lakers came with a pile of gold and plenty of control, offering Dan Hurley, just 14 years ago a New Jersey high school coach, the keys to one of the most decorated franchises in all of sports, let alone the NBA.

Seventeen championships. Legends stretching from Mikan and West, through Kareem and Magic, to Shaq, Kobe and LeBron. All the glitz. All the glamour. All the potential at a place where free agents flock and banners get hung.

And yet in the end, after days of interviews and contemplation, Hurley said no to it all. No to the NBA. No to L.A. No to a reported $70 million. No to tackling the game at the highest and most sophisticated level.

Instead he said yes to staying at the University of Connecticut, yes to a life in the New England woods, yes to the realities of today’s college basketball, where he’s constructed a modern-day juggernaut and will enter next season seeking the first collegiate three-peat since John Wooden and UCLA.

This is, obviously, a phenomenal day for UConn.

It is also a phenomenal day for all of college hoops — yes, even those of you who have seen and will continue to see your favorite team lose to the Huskies.

The sport has been cast into second-class status of late, trying to find its feet and purpose amid a spinning transfer portal and name, image and likeness.

There have been positives, namely a more level playing field at the top of the sport, with more new teams reaching the Final Four and more old blue bloods struggling to get out of their own way. Sneaker companies no longer control the flow of talent.

Yet there are growing pains, something too many in college basketball — especially the coaches who made fortunes off the old system — now spend their time complaining about. Everything is terrible, they’ll tell you.

The sport is in transition and maybe that was enough to force a legend such as Jay Wright out of Villanova while still in his prime. Yet the sport has always been a mess. It’s not that coaches didn’t whine and cry about recruiting and AAU and money and everything else before.

Hurley has found a way to not just survive under the new rules but set a blueprint to thrive. And if it was so terrible, so taxing, so infuriating to be a college coach right now, well, then why isn’t he flying to Los Angeles?

If money is everything, if no team can possibly compete if it isn’t a member of some massive football conference, then why is he still at UConn and the Big East, where basketball is the top priority? He probably could be Kentucky’s coach right now as well. He isn’t.

If anything, the Lakers test proves Hurley is unlikely to go anywhere, at any level. What is left, the New York Knicks? Bumbling owner James Dolan probably scares that possibility away.

Hurley coaches as tough and as demanding of a style as anyone in recent memory. His teams are disciplined. They are relentless. They are asked to take on complex tasks. There is no coddling. If anything, he said, having the players compensated through NIL means he can expect even more.

“The last two years since NIL started, I’ve coached my teams harder than I’ve coached any teams just because of everything that these guys now have at their disposal,” Hurley said in April during the NCAA tournament. “The resources that the University of Connecticut and programs now invest in these players is not for their attendance.

“It’s not just to be on campus,” he continued. “It’s to produce and to produce winning. The way we travel, you know, the residence, the full-service dining we have in our 40-million-plus [dollar] practice facility, the NIL opportunities.”

That’s what fans of college basketball want the face of the sport to be talking about. There is no woe-is-me from Dan Hurley. He thinks he has it better than ever. He’s standing up for college basketball.

And if you can no longer just recruit a guy and expect to have him for four years, so what?

“We go hard for these guys while they’re on campus, and that’s why, I think, you see the bond the way it is,” Hurley said of his relationship with his players. “In some cases, it’s eight months, it’s 10 months, it’s two or three years. You’ve got to do that at a sprinter’s pace because it’s such a short window where you’re trying to prepare these guys for the rest of their lives. Success. The stuff that they need to learn as men.”

It’s old-school thinking in a new era of college hoops. And it’s produced results that few have ever matched.

No one has done it better than Dan Hurley of late; a unique character, fiery personality and proven winner. He was enough for the Lakers to come calling.

And yet he stayed.

That’s a great day for everyone in college basketball.

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