Why would Dan Hurley turn down the Lakers to stay at UConn? Surprising, maybe, but it makes sense

ByJeff Borzello and Myron Medcalf ESPN logo
Monday, June 10, 2024

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported last week that the Los Angeles Lakers had targeted UConn's Dan Hurley as their next head coach, two months after he'd led the Huskies to their second consecutive national title and sixth championship in 25 years. Twenty years ago, the Lakers made a similar pitch to Mike Krzyzewski, who rejected the offer to remain at Duke. The franchise received the same answer from Hurley on Monday.

The UConn Huskies coach announced he had decided to stay in Storrs, Connecticut, and continue his pursuit of a third straight NCAA title and the spoils of being recognized as the top coach in men's college basketball. Lakers owner Jeanie Buss has negotiated deals with LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Magic Johnson, Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and other noteworthy figures in basketball. But the franchise failed to lure Hurley from his prestigious post in the collegiate ranks, a disappointment for the Lakers and a monumental development for the future of UConn men's basketball.

Myron Medcalf and Jeff Borzello break down why Hurley stayed, what it means for UConn's three-peat chances and more.

How surprised are you that Hurley stayed at UConn?

Borzello: I'm surprised from the standpoint of the Lakers being one of the most storied franchises in American sports, led by one of the greatest players to ever play basketball. Had he made his decision shortly after meeting with Lakers executives and ownership, it would have been stunning to see him turn that down. But once he returned to the East Coast and the decision-making progress started to drag out until Sunday and then to Monday, it became less surprising to see him stay at UConn. It's a lot harder to say "I'm leaving" when you have to go into the practice facility -- with jerseys of UConn legends on the walls and national championship trophies in the lobby -- and tell it to the team you built to chase a third consecutive title.

Medcalf: I would have been more surprised Friday or Saturday. But I'm less surprised now that I know he was offered a six-year, $70 million deal. Yes, it's a substantial offer, but I'm less surprised given the Lakers didn't put a massive, eight-figure deal on the table. Still, it was an opportunity to coach one of the storied franchises in sports, a team that might be led by future Hall of Famers Davis and James next season. I'm also not sure how much higher Hurley can go at UConn after all of his success. But I think he can be authentic at UConn in ways he could not be in the NBA. Still, it's the Lakers. Few have rejected an offer from a member of the Buss family, so it's surprising.

What does this mean for UConn's chances of a three-peat?

Borzello: The hunt for something that hasn't been done in more than 50 years in men's college basketball is officially back on. Had Hurley left, UConn would have likely been left with a first-time head coach and a depleted roster. It would have been an offseason filled with question marks and a season filled with uncertainty. Instead, the UConn program and its fan base are going to be more motivated than ever. Hurley already was a Huskies legend. Two national titles will do that for you. But now that he has turned down Kentucky and the Los Angeles Lakers? The fan base is going to back him to the fullest extent. With Alex Karaban returning and Liam McNeeley and Aidan Mahaney entering the fold, there's a top-five roster in Storrs. And Hurley is also back to lead the way.

Medcalf: It makes them real. Karaban withdrew from the NBA and returned to UConn for a shot at a run that has not been achieved since John Wooden's UCLA squads in the 1960s and 1970s. Only a handful of teams have won back-to-back crowns, but UConn has a real shot. It appears, however, that Kansas has the best team in the country entering the season. And Alabama is also equipped for another Final Four run. Houston, North Carolina, Duke, Iowa State and others are valid contenders. But Karaban, along with McNeeley, a top-10 recruit, and Mahaney, a Saint Mary's transfer, could lead this program to a seventh national title in 26 years and extend an unprecedented run in recent men's college basketball history.

What is the biggest question mark for the Huskies?

Borzello: Over the past two years, UConn has dominated opponents in a few ways. The Huskies have overwhelmed them in the paint at both ends of the floor, they've received high-level point guard play when it mattered and they've seamlessly integrated newcomers with a returning core of players. All of those things are, at the very least, up in the air right now. Hassan Diarra has to replace Tristen Newton at the point of attack. Donovan Clingan replaced Adama Sanogo last season and UConn got even better on the interior; can Samson Johnson and Tarris Reed replicate that production? And will UConn's freshmen and transfers hit the ground running a la Stephon Castle and Cam Spencer? McNeeley and Mahaney will have a lot on their shoulders from day one.

The Huskies' offense is the other thing to monitor. It was running beautifully last season, a roster filled with shooting and unselfishness, each player knowing his role. It could take time to reach that level again.

Medcalf: It's the same question Hurley's squad faced a year ago: How do you replace the lost talent? Clingan and Castle are projected lottery picks in this summer's NBA draft. Newton, the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA tournament, is also gone. Overall, four of the team's top five scorers have left. Entering last season, three of the top five scorers from the 2022-23 national title run had returned.

But Hurley also has players, such as Samson Johnson, who've been waiting for their opportunities to shine. He has serious talent and some veterans, such as Diarra, on the roster, too. Plus, Hurley has proved that he knows how to hit the reset button. The loss of elite talent, however, is undeniable.

What does the future look like at UConn if Hurley stays long term?

Borzello: Given that Hurley turned down the biggest job in college basketball and one of the biggest franchises in sports in the span of two months, it would seem that he is going to be in Storrs for the foreseeable future. Had he left, the concerns about UConn's tenuous spot in the changing college sports landscape might have become more serious. Because the Big East isn't one of the big football conferences, there are questions about how it will keep up with the revenue-sharing model. The league simply doesn't have the television money of the Big Ten and SEC. But Hurley sticking around is a statement about his confidence about UConn being able to compete at the highest level. And it's not a bad recruiting tool, either.

Medcalf: A lot of folks have compared this to Krzyzewski's decision to return to Duke after the Lakers offered him a massive deal 20 years ago, but Coach K came back to a different collegiate landscape. Every team in the country now has to rebuild each season because of the proliferation of the transfer portal. And the unknowns ahead with revenue sharing could also complicate that ambition. Hurley, right now, can walk into the home of any recruit in the country and tell him that he rejected both Kentucky and the Lakers in the same offseason.

But the revenue-sharing models of the future will favor the richest schools in the richest leagues. UConn has been a candidate for potential expansion efforts by power conferences in the past, and a move by the school in the years ahead could have implications for men's basketball and the rest of the athletic department. If the school stays in the Big East, the Huskies could face disadvantages without the TV money those schools enjoy.

Hurley can continue to build winners off pedigree, legacy and reputation. The next decade could prove, however, that those elements mean less than they ever have, which could complicate Hurley's reign.

Who could be the next college coach to get an NBA offer and why?

Medcalf: I'll go with Nate Oats, who has assembled an Alabama Crimson Tide team with national title aspirations in 2024-25. His style fits with the modern NBA's approach to the game. His players are all versatile. He doesn't believe in midrange shots and he's committed to the idea that a great offense will beat a great defense. Oats could make a seamless transition -- on paper -- to the NBA because of the way he approaches the game. He also has enough personality to manage that element of the transition, too.

Borzello: I'm with Myron on this one. Oats has developed arguably the most modern offense in high-major basketball over the past few years, completely eliminating midrange jumpers and focusing on spacing the floor and shooting a high volume of 3-pointers and shots at the rim. From both an X's and O's and personality standpoint, he makes the most sense as someone who could make the jump. One other name that jumps out at me is Arizona's Tommy Lloyd. Sources who watched Lloyd coach USA Basketball at this month's FIBA U18 AmeriCup came away impressed with his ability to potentially coach at the next level.

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