UConn men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley talks Andre Jackson’s leadership, Richie Spring’s development

Photo of David Borges

UConn men’s basketball players finished up final exams and headed back to their respective homes over the past week. Most will return in June for summer courses, but otherwise it’s a rare break away from campus for the student-athletes.

We caught up with Dan Hurley recently to talk about a few different subjects before the next time we see him — at the UConn Coaches’ Road Show May 16 and 17 in Southington and Stratford, respectively.

Jackson showing leadership

One thing that Hurley and others associated with the program have been impressed with since the end of the season is the leadership role that rising junior Andre Jackson appears to be taking.

“He’s been great,” Hurley noted. “If you had 12 guys with his approach, I wouldn’t be bald and gray. He’s addicted to self-improvement, he’s all about winning. He’s an absolute fierce contender that has no agenda, other than UConn winning another championship. That’s special in today’s climate.”

Indeed, despite boasting athleticism and dunking ability that almost seems to be something from the future, Jackson is a bit of a throwback. He and Adama Sanogo are the two players who practically live in the Werth Family Champions Center practice facility. He does what the staff tells him to do and bleeds UConn blue — not to impress his social media following or anything like that, but simply to make the Huskies the best team they can be.

A few weeks ago, Jackson was the only player available at a press gathering following the departure of four players from the program to the transfer portal. He didn’t mince words.

“I respect their decision,” Jackson told reporters. “But I feel like the strongest people survive, in a sense. It’s always good to know that everybody who’s here wants to be here. Everybody that is here is really locked in and committed to bringing UConn back and breaking that barrier.”

Jackson came off an injury- (and COVID-) plagued freshman season and showed good growth as a sophomore, averaging 6.8 points, 6.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists, nabbing a team-best 38 steals and playing every position on the floor except center. Six-foot-6 and lengthy, he can guard just about anyone, as well, and despite an awkward-looking shot, was one of the Huskies’ top 3-point shooters (36.1 percent).

“His second half of the year was significantly different than his first half,” Hurley noted. “He played really well. We expect a nice increase and for him to look like a much better player.”

The Huskies wanted to surround him on the perimeter with better 3-point shooters, and transfers Nahiem Alleyne and Tristen Newton, along with an improved Jordan Hawkins and redshirt freshman Alex Karaban could fit that bill. UConn is still looking to bring in at least one more ballhandling guard from the transfer portal, as well.

“Adama (Sanogo), Andre and Jordan recognize they have the talent to play great, great basketball together this year,” Hurley added. “They know they’ve got some really good players around them.”

Indeed, Hurley thinks it could wind up being a very special group.

“That’ll be the best team I’ve had here,” he noted, “or at least having the most good players I’ve had at one time.”

Hope Springs eternal

UConn has had six different players enter the transfer portal over the past two seasons, essentially all looking for more playing time.

That Richie Springs hasn’t been one of those players speaks to a lot of things — mainly, Richie Springs.

Springs has been at UConn for three years now and has played just over the equivalent of one full game — 41 minutes, to be exact.

He sat out his first season as an academic redshirt, but played just 13 minutes in five games the following season, then 28 minutes in eight games this past season. He has never been seriously discussed as a key rotation player, yet he remains a loyal Husky not swayed by the easy fix of the portal.

Could Springs, a 6-9 forward, finally be in line for playing time next season?

“We lost a ton of minutes,” Hurley explained. “Your conversations with him pretty consistently are, ‘You have the talent to be out there.’ This is obviously a great opportunity for him, at this point in his career.”

Yes, the Huskies lost starting forward Isaiah Whaley to graduation, and Akok Akok has transferred to Georgetown. But All-Big East center Adama Sanogo is back, along with 6-10 rising sophomore Samson Johnson. Meanwhile, 7-2 center Donovan Clingan is arriving via Bristol Central as a top-50 recruit, and 6-8 Karaban, who joined the team in January as a redshirt, will also battle for minutes.

“Richie is a UConn guy, he’s a talented basketball player,” Hurley pointed out. “He’s still only 20 years old. There are freshmen going into college that are Richie’s age. He’s been here a while, but he’s still a younger player. This is a big year for him.”

Newton welcomes Alleyne

Newton didn’t know Alleyne before the latter committed to UConn shortly after Newton’s own commitment, but he’s reached out to the former Virginia Tech sharpshooter via text.

“I thought he was a great fit,” said Newton, who transferred to UConn from East Carolina. “He’s a shooter, he plays hard, on the ball and off the ball he plays great defense. He’s just fits perfectly.”