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New Haven Register (Connecticut)
CROMWELL - David Benedict didn't really know Dan Hurley personally before hiring him as UConn's new men's basketball coach on March 22.
He had only heard great things about Hurley's work ethic, recruiting prowess and relationships with players. Over the past six weeks, Benedict, UConn's athletic director, has had a chance to witness those attributes up close.
Safe to say, he's been impressed.
"I think it's just confirmed all the things that we had heard about Coach Hurley," Benedict said on Monday morning, after addressing the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce at its member breakfast meeting. "Talking to him through the interview process, the things we discussed, the things he said he would want to do, the way he'd be going about things ... the biggest one is the staff he put together. He put an incredible staff together, which is something that's very important to any head coach. You can't do it on your own."
Hurley has hired former longtime UConn assistant and Quinnipiac head coach Tom Moore, as well as Kenya Hunter, most recently an assistant at Nebraska, and Kimani Young, most recently at Minnesota. All three have strong recruiting ties to the New York, New England and/or Washington, D.C. areas. Hurley and his staff have been all over the country in recent weeks and have made numerous offers to top players from the Class of 2019 and beyond.
"He knows - as does any head coach - that recruiting is the lifeblood of the program," said Benedict. "You've got to get out and work. I like the fact that he's got a very strong, committed plan in place, as to how he's going to recruit here. That's not to say that you won't find him deviating a little bit, but he's going to recruit the Northeast corridor and the Mid-Atlantic. He went out and hired coaches that have connections in all those areas."
Benedict spoke to the assembled group of about 250 people from the local business community for about a half-hour and addressed a number of topics.
The American Conference has a stronger national brand than people give it credit for, and none of the coaches Benedict interviewed for the men's basketball job mentioned it as a negative.
"We had a No. 2, 4 and 6 seed (in the NCAA tournament)," Benedict noted. "We could have had more, but that's partly on UConn. We're not carrying our weight."
There has been $88 million raised for improvements to the baseball, softball and soccer facilities. Why those programs, and not football or men's basketball?
"Those sports won't get us into another conference," Benedict said, "but they could keep us out. Those facilities don't meet the standards that UConn should have."
He noted that the baseball facilities are the worst for any school in Connecticut.
He addressed the major issues affecting NCAA men's basketball, believing the one-and-done rule will soon be abolished, but not agreeing that college athletes should be paid.
"If I had to, I would have paid my own expenses for the experience I had in college," Benedict said.
He added that he hopes Christian Vital will remain at UConn and not turn pro.
Benedict stressed that the athletic program needs fans in the seats.
"At a minimum, please buy some tickets," he said. "We need to fill the seats. It is a critical piece of building a successful athletic department. The major conferences look at attendances at universities."
Benedict said the men's basketball team's opponents for next season have been finalized, but didn't know when they would be officially announced. UConn won't have to get on a plane much (if at all) for its non-conference slate this season, playing two games in the 2K Coaches Classic at Madison Square Garden (where it could face Syracuse) as well as Villanova at MSG.
"Our philosophy related to non-conference scheduling is going to really shift a little bit," he said. "We're going to look to playing a lot of teams from our old Big East days. We're talking to Providence, St. John's, continuing relationships with Georgetown, Syracuse, Villanova. Those are all gonna be games we'll be looking to schedule in the future."
Benedict added that the radio teams for UConn's new relationship with iHeart Radio should be finalized within the next month. UConn has input on the choices.
"I don't necessarily make the final decision, because they're not on my payroll," he said. "They would be on IMG's or iHeart's. But certainly, it's important to ESPN and iHeart, as well as IMG, that we're gonna be happy with those selections. It's something that we definitely are having conversations about."
Asked about the status of Kevin Ollie's battle with the university for the nearly $11 million left on his contract prior to his March 10 firing for cause, Benedict simply said: "I"m not gonna talk about it."
Ollie is slated to make his appeal to UConn president Susan Herbst, possibly this week.
Credit: By David Borges
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