HARTFORD — John Beilein shook up the basketball world last week when he left Michigan to try his hand in the NBA with the Cavaliers.
Not that it’s unusual for a successful college coach to try it, but Beilein, 66, had been in college basketball since starting at Erie Community College in 1978, so it seemed a little late in the game. UConn’s Dan Hurley, though, thinks it’s a great fit, and no shocker at all.
“I feel like coach is a basketball purist,” Hurley said, as the UConn Coaches Road Show opened day three with a stop at Dunkin’ Donuts Park on Thursday. “A purist. I got to know him real well at St. Benedict’s during my high school years and he was all about the ball and hated recruiting. So I think he’s probably in a great place. He’s a brilliant, brilliant coach.”
Indeed, when he was introduced in Cleveland, Beilein expressed his desire to coach basketball without the constraints of the college game. That leads one to wonder if Hurley, 46, despite his family’s long association with high school and college basketball, harbors similar NBA aspirations.
“That would be my goal,” said Hurley, starting his second season at UConn, where his contract runs through 2024. “I would love to win a couple of championships, get UConn back on top of the mountain. I think in the long term, you have to have goals. You have to have things you continue to drive and reach for. I want to be a championship-level coach here and someday, down the road, that’s something I’d think about.”
Perhaps after 10 or 20 years, when there isn’t unfinished business at UConn and he reaches Beilein’s age, Hurley will be a little more “chill.” The thought of Hurley’s signature sideline antics playing on the NBA stage is interesting to say the least.
“If the sideline demeanor doesn’t shift downward,” he said, “I don’t know if that (would work). There’s not many guys in the NBA running around the sidelines, although there is the Toronto guy (Nick Nurse).”
Longtime college coaches moving to the NBA, like Rick Pitino, John Calipari, Billy Donovan, have had mixed results. Hurley thinks Beilein has the temperament to adjust to a “player’s league” where coaches aren’t the biggest stars.
“I think Cleveland, I think he’ll do well there,” Hurley said. “He’s such a great offensive tactician and he’s such a good man, without any real ego, that he’s going to be able to deal with those guys so well. Kind of like [Boston’s] Brad Stevens is able to deal with guys so well because he doesn’t have a huge ego. It’s a player’s league and he’s not going to think it’s all about him.”
As the road show concluded with stops in Hartford and Stamford on Thursday, Hurley continued his work to re-energize the UConn fan base after three consecutive losing seasons.
“It’s been a difficult couple of years,” Hurley said, “and the fans, everyone who’s invested in the program, we want to get them excited about what we’re moving into. I’ve got to get out here and put the last couple of years behind our great fan base and get them re-engaged, and understand that real soon it’s going to look like what it should look like at UConn.
"At a place like Rhode Island you’re trying to fight for attention locally, with Providence there, and nationally in the A-10. Here, you have the platform, you have the exposure, it hasn’t been the right type of platform for us the last couple of years. This is a smart fan base. They’ve got great basketball here in Connecticut, they know where we’re at and where we’ve got to get to.”
Hurley and UConn are in the planning stages of an overseas trip for the summer of 2020, a bonding experience for year three. Hurley took Rhode Island on a trip to Italy after his first season there. At UConn, he will look for a shorter trip with strong competition.
“We’re talking about that right now,” Hurley said. "We feel like next year is a big year for us, we feel like year three is when you feel like it’s all going to potentially come together for you, so we’re looking into doing it. We did it at [Rhode Island] before year two, and I probably should have waited for year three.”