For UConn men, First Night scrimmage way to get ‘butterflies’ out of the way

Connecticut men's head coach Dan Hurley is introduced during the UConn's men's and women's basketball teams annual First Night celebration in 2018.

Connecticut men's head coach Dan Hurley is introduced during the UConn's men's and women's basketball teams annual First Night celebration in 2018.

Jessica Hill / Associated Press

On Friday night, for the first time since Christian Vital famously “snipered out” against Houston on March” 5, 2020, the UConn men’s basketball team will play before student-fans at Gampel Pavilion.

First Night festivities return to Storrs after a year’s hiatus on Friday, and they will be highlighted by a pair of intrasquad scrimmages — first by the women’s team, then the men’s.

Obviously, it’s not a real game. But for coach Dan Hurley, the scrimmage will serve as an important reintroduction to the students for his team, which played all its home games at Gampel last season in front of just family and friends of players.

“For us, hopefully we get our butterflies out that night,” said Hurley. “You’ll have the music and the intros, but we’re a basketball school, so our guys want to play and get the student-fans excited by watching us play. They haven’t had a chance to see us play, in-person, in a long time.”

It will be a little different than First Nights of the past. The event is only open to UConn students, not the general public — an extra precaution with the pandemic not over yet. There will be no musical act, like T-Pain in 2019, and no dunk contest or “bizarre” 3-point contest, as Hurley called it, either.

“We always seem to brick them and it doesn’t do anything for our collective confidence as a shooting team,” Hurley noted. “And usually, the dunk contest goes over like a lead balloon.”

Instead, shortly after 7 p.m., the men’s and women’s teams will be introduced to the student-fans. And after that, the scrimmages.

Hurley sees the scrimmage as a way to help get any potential jitters out of the way in advance of the team’s regular-season opener on Nov. 9 against Central Connecticut State. The Huskies won’t play any preseason exhibition games open to the public, just a pair of closed-door scrimmages against a pair of (unnamed) Division 1 opponents.

“It just made a lot more sense to play two closed scrimmages against really, really good teams that will give us a really good sense of the direction we need to go before Nov. 9,” Hurley said.

So, Friday night will serve as his team’s lone chance to play in front of fans before the season-opener.

A block party on Jim Calhoun Way that will include several food trucks, video game trucks, a DJ, giveaways, yard games and more, will begin at 5 p.m.

“This is gonna be pretty cool, man,” Hurley said. “To have a bunch of people lined up outside of Gampel, like it should be. That’s awesome.”

“It’s going to be a great reminder of the electricity that fans bring to sports.”


 Recruits will be able to attend Friday’s events, and Donovan Clingan, the Class of 2022 UConn commit from Bristol, is said to be planning to attend. Fellow ’22 commit Alex Karaban, who attends IMG Academy in Florida, told Hearst Connecticut Media he wont be there “as much as I want to.”

 The CW20 will broadcast the event live at 7 p.m. Students must show a valid UConn student ID and their mobile ticket to get in, through the East and South entrances. Doors open at 5 p.m., and there is no re-entry allowed once fans exit the building.

Four randomly-selected students will have a chance to win $10,000 by either making a halfcourt shot or hitting a bunch of 3-pointers.

All fans must wear a face covering while inside Gampel.