PHILADELPHIA - The hazing of the departing UConn menâ€™s basketball team by the American Athletic Conference has already begun, Dan Hurley contends. Upon check-in at the hotel Sunday for the leagueâ€™s media day, the second-year Huskies coach joked that he was already absorbing slights at his expense.
â€śLast year I got a bottle of wine. This year I just got the bottle of Fiji water,â€ť Hurley said Monday morning. â€śAnd they charged me $7.â€ť
UConn is about to begin its final season of play in the American. It will return to the Big East after the current season ends, and Hurley already perceives the door starting to swing into his backside.
â€śThereâ€™s not going to be a lot of hugs and tears at our departure,â€ť Hurley said of his message to his team. â€śSo letâ€™s use that as fuel.â€ť
But while Hurley expects the heat to be cranked up high or turned off completely in various visitorâ€™s locker rooms this season, his counterparts insist thereâ€™s no bad blood.
When the American was formed, as the original Big East broke apart, UConn was the linchpin of the new league. As it departs, the American can seemingly stand on its own much better.
â€śWeâ€™re a really strong conference now. Itâ€™s never easy to lose a team and it can have an impact on your image, your brand. But fortunately itâ€™s not eight years ago, seven years ago. When we lost teams then it was dire,â€ť AAC commissioner Mike Aresco said.
Houston coach Kelvin Sampson, whose team has become one of the Americanâ€™s dominant programs, is among those sad to see UConn leave - though not ready to seek revenge in the form of locker room conditions.
â€śIt gave our league great credibility. UConn is a national brand. What coach (Jim) Calhoun did there, everybody in America knew,â€ť Sampson said.
â€śI think our league stands on its own. The most impactful teams in our league the last four or five years have been Cincinnati, SMU and Houston. As our league has grown, other teams have formed their own identity. But make no mistake, losing Connecticut is a loss. Just like getting them in our league was a huge feather in our cap.â€ť
Aresco and other league officials insist the Huskies arenâ€™t being punished for their departure in any fashion, and many are generally wishing the Huskies well. â€śThereâ€™s only awkwardness if you create it,â€ť Aresco said. â€śI donâ€™t think anybody feels that way.â€ť
The current UConn players, picked to finish sixth in preseason coaches poll released Monday, have openly talked about finding a way to win the league in their final season as a part of it.
â€śSome teams definitely want to get us before we leave. But in our opinion, we want to get teams back,â€ť guard Christian Vital said. â€śBecause we havenâ€™t had the most successful past three years here.â€ť
As far as the teamâ€™s performance in the previous three years, both in conference play and out of it, Hurley has been quick to establish a disconnect between those performances and his current teamâ€™s expectations.
They shouldnâ€™t feel pressure to win just because itâ€™s UConnâ€™s final season in the American or because they havenâ€™t won very much recently, Hurley insists.
â€śWeâ€™re not carrying the last three years of tough seasons,â€ť Hurley said. â€śItâ€™s not this group of Huskies, especially the young guys, itâ€™s not their burden to carry whatâ€™s happened to UConn basketball. We donâ€™t want them to try and play to make up for whatâ€™s happened the last three years.â€ť
UConn opens up the regular season Nov. 8 against Sacred Heart and begins AAC play Jan. 1 at Cincinnati.
NOTES: Hurley and Memphis coach Penny Hardaway both said Monday they wouldnâ€™t mind their teams beginning a non-conference series after the Huskies leave the AAC for the Big East. â€śIâ€™m sure Danny and I will talk about that. Thatâ€™s something that could be possible in the future, for sure,â€ť Hardaway said. Hurley joked that Memphisâ€™ fans would like to get another shot at heckling him on the sidelines. â€śPlaying the 20 Big East games, thatâ€™s going to be a bear. Weâ€™re only going to have a couple of non-conference chances to play some elite-level games,â€ť Hurley said. â€śBut thatâ€™s something we would consider because of the level Penny has them at.â€ť