Dan Hurley’s decision to stay at UConn comes with relief, optimism for what’s next

STORRS, Conn. — Alex Karaban was playing “NBA 2K” in his room on Sunday afternoon when the phone rang.

“My eyes got real big,” Karaban said. It was Dan Hurley calling.

Karaban, a rising junior who recently announced his decision to withdraw from the NBA Draft and return to UConn, was “really nervous” about Hurley’s impending decision to either join him in pursuit of a three-peat national championship, or become the next head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers.

“I came back to be with Coach Hurley,” Karaban said. “Of course, I would have been so happy for him if he took the Lakers job, but you’re nervous because I went through the NBA Draft process, got good feedback, but was 50-50 on that decision and ultimately said yes to returning here and being a part of potential history.” 

“If Alex didn’t return, I’m not sure I would have changed my decision, but that was certainly something I talked about a lot,” Hurley said. “He gave me his advice, and I asked him for it. I followed his advice.” 

What a difference a week makes. 

Last week, the vibes in Storrs, Connecticut, were that of concern. On Monday, Karaban said he and his teammates sat as the clock ticked, waiting on a decision from their head coach and wondering if everything would be the same, or if a major change was on the way. Karaban was more optimistic than not with Hurley’s impending choice, but was told by his coach on the phone Sunday that he was at 65% stay at UConn vs. 35% go to LA.

Fast-forward to Thursday afternoon in Storrs, where Hurley walked into the Werth Family UConn Basketball Champions Center with his blue Huskies shirt and the word “EVERYTHING” across his chest.

“I didn’t like the way they looked at me when I told them I was going to consider it,” Hurley said of his initial conversations with his players after news broke of him being considered for the Lakers job, “but I’ve liked the faces a lot more since I’ve told them I’m staying.”

Those faces include Karaban, Samson Johnson and Hassan Diarra, all members of the Huskies’ back-to-back national championship teams, and all smiling ear-to-ear on Thursday.

All is right at UConn, and while Hurley told FOX Sports that he and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka “would have worked well together and could have developed a great plan,” the 51-year-old also added that this experience gave him a greater appreciation of the opportunity he has at UConn.

“This was a great test for how I feel about UConn and being a college coach,” Hurley said. “I think situations like this come up for you to test your value system, and the things important to you. So, in a way, this was a great opportunity for self-reflection of what’s most important in my career.” 

Hurley dismissed the notion that his flirtation and talks with the Lakers brass was some sort of leverage play, stating Thursday afternoon that University of Connecticut athletic director David Benedict and his agent, Bret Just, had been finalizing a new contract two weeks ago. 

“Hopefully we’re able to finalize it soon,” Hurley said. “I’m flattered by what Dave has put together for me. It’s very fair.”

Sources have previously confirmed to FOX Sports that UConn has mapped out an offer of roughly $50 million for six years, coming in at over $8 million per year. 

“When the Lakers come calling, and you’re the type of person that is competitive and looking for challenges, and wants to be the best the way I do, it was something I really had to consider,” Hurley said. “The thought of coaching LeBron James was incredibly exciting. This was not some leverage situation. I’ve won back-to-back championships, and I’ve had plenty of leverage in the offseason.” 

That leverage, control, and desire to join John Wooden and win a third straight national title – as well as the happiness of his wife, Andrea, and his family – is what made Hurley come to a decision that made all of Connecticut rejoice earlier this week. 

“In the end, it was too many reasons to be here at UConn,” Hurley said. “It’s your family, it’s where you’re best suited to coach, it’s the business side, and it’s your players, like Alex, who came here to be a part of this. It’s the people in Connecticut who have treated me so great.”

Hurley is king in his state now, with local restaurants pledging to give him free chicken wings, pizza and hot dogs for life. 

And after turning down the Lakers and vowing to stay in Connecticut, it makes you wonder: Could Hurley stay at UConn for the rest of his coaching career?

“Yes, it’s a thought that enters your head and that’s the only way I’ll think as we go for another year of winning championships,” Hurley said. “It’s hard to project that far out, but if you’re going to pass on that [the Lakers job] to stay here …” 

Hurley briefly paused before proceeding to smile and shrug his shoulders.

“I get a chance to coach 18-, 19- and 20-year-old kids,” Hurley added. “The impact you can now have on Jordan Hawkins and his family, Donovan Clingan and his family, [at the college level] you get the mix of top competition and fulfillment.” 

On Thursday afternoon, the entire vibe of anyone wearing a Huskies shirt was one of total fulfillment, and a mindset of what’s possible for this blue-blood program that has accounted for six national titles in the last 25 years. 

“I know it sounds crazy, but I think we’ve got a team that could be one of the most talented that this program has ever had,” Karaban said with a smile. “Now, we know the best coach in the country is here to oversee it all. It’s time to get to work.” 

John Fanta is a national college basketball broadcaster and writer for FOX Sports. He covers the sport in a variety of capacities, from calling games on FS1 to serving as lead host on the BIG EAST Digital Network to providing commentary on The Field of 68 Media Network. Follow him on Twitter @John_Fanta.

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