Photo: Jessica Hill / Associated Press
STORRS — There may be only one thing college basketball coaches love to do more than coaching their own team in games and practices.
Watching other teams practice.
Dan Hurley had a chance to sit in on a couple of other teams’ practices this past week, and they are programs who’ve had some pretty good success over the years: the Boston Celtics and the UConn women’s basketball team.
Every year, Hurley, in his first season as UConn men’s coach, tries to get to at least one practice by the Celtics, as well as the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets. “Professional development,” he calls it.
Hurley got to watch Celtics coach Brad Stevens in action earlier this week, and came away impressed.
“They don’t have any bad players,” he noted on Friday, shortly before UConn’s First Night festivities at Gampel Pavilion. “They don’t turn the ball over. They always get a good shot. The closer they get to the basket, the more they slow down so they can read the defense. They understand how to use screens, they talk on defense. It’s obviously a well-structured practice, in terms of what they’re trying to build up to.”
Hurley paused for a moment, then added: “It’s also a little bit of a kick in the stomach. You see them, then come back and we can’t do the three-man weave drill.”
In truth, Hurley has been happy with the way his team has been developing since the Huskies’ first practice two weeks ago, when the coach kept the team on the floor about 20 minutes longer than expected when it couldn’t sufficiently run the aforementioned three-man weave drill.
“These guys are working hard,” Hurley said. “They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do. They’ve adapted to a new style, and just kind of learning different defensive concepts. We look a lot different right now. The defensive rotations, just the intensity and competitiveness they’re playing at. I think they understand how hard they have to compete … and that’s a good thing.”
In the middle of this past week, shortly before heading out for recruiting, Hurley and a couple of his assistants sat in on one of Geno Aueriemma’s practices, in the adjacent gym at the Werth Family Champions Center.
“I”ve seen Geno at clinics, but that was the first time I got to watch his team,” he reported. “The professionalism, the understanding of how they want to play, the championship culture oozes out as you’re watching. It’s like watching a well-oiled operation.”
Auriemma said the one thing he hopes people notice in his practices is “how consistent we are with our effort and how it never varies.”
“Coaches love to go watch other coaches practice — whether it’s high school, college, pros, it doesn’t matter,” Auriemma added. “When coaches have any free time, they like to go watch other people practice. As soon as somebody’s out of a job in the basketball world, the first thing they do is get on a plane and go everywhere to watch practice. While they’re (employed), they go, ‘I hate this, I hate travel, I hate practice.’ They minute you’re not, you want to go see other people do things. Because there’s this constant feeling like, ‘I want to know more than I know.’ ”
So there was Hurley this week, at practices for a 17-time NBA champion franchise and an 11-time NCAA women’s basketball championship program.
“That’s what good coaches do,” Auriemma added. “They pick up stuff from other coaches. That’s what I’ve done. That’s the world, man. If you’re not learning all the time, you’re standing still.”
After addressing the First Night crowd of about 6,000 following player introductions, Auriemma formally introduced Hurley.
“Let’s go UConn!!!” Hurley shouted after taking the microphone. “I can’t tell you what an honor it is to be here, to be the leader of the men’s basketball team at the most storied basketball university in the country … Just make sure you’re here in November at the start, when we make that climb all the way back up!”
Kwintin Williams dazzled the First Night crowd with some acrobatic slams in the dunk contest. Olivia Nelson-Ododa, a freshman on the women’s team, missed all three of her attempts, but still drew more cheers from the crowd than her opponent, freshman Brendan Adams, who threw down a couple of impressive jams.
“This is probably Kwintin’s Super Bowl,” Hurley said prior to the event. “This is like Game 7 of the NBA Finals for Kwintin tonight.”
Prior to the festivities, Hurley praised the recent play of Sid Wilson, Christian Vital, Jalen Adams and Alterique Gilbert.
“Sid has been tremendous the last couple of practices. He’s really taken it up a notch. That’s a talented guy who can bring a lot to the program. I like the adjustments that Christian’s been making — his shot selection, his willingness to share the ball. He’s a guy that’s really matured. And I like Jalen’s approach, and Al.”
Kassoum Yakwe (foot) should be back to practicing soon. He likely won’t play in the Huskies’ “secret scrimmage” against Harvard in a couple of weeks, but Hurley believes he’ll be good to go for UConn’s exhibition opener on Nov. 2 against Southern Connecticut.
A pair of Class of 2019 big men, Akok Akok of Putnam Science Academy and Qudus Wahab of Virginia, were on their official visits on Friday night. Recent UConn commits Jalen Gaffney and James Bouknight were also at First Night, as well as Richard Springs, a 6-foot-7, Class of 2021 power forward who is Bouknight’s teammate at MacDuffie School.