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UConn sees recruiting bump from Big East move

2K Empire Classic

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 15: NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 15: Connecticut Huskies head coach Dan Hurley reacts as the Connecticut Huskies bench celebrates after the Huskies rebound in the first half of the game against Syracuse Orange during the 2k Empire Classic at Madison Square Garden on November 15, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

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STORRS, Conn. -- Men’s basketball coach Dan Hurley said Monday that he’s already seeing benefits on the recruiting trail from UConn’s decision to leave the American Athletic Conference and return to the Big East.

Hurley, who is coming off a 16-17 first season with the Huskies, spoke to reporters after putting his team through a summer workout.

He said his recruiting pitch has been about UConn’s tradition, facilities and ability to put players into the NBA. But, he said it has been tough selling the American Athletic Conference, which he called a great basketball league that “didn’t fit us.”

“Because of where we want to recruit and how we want to build it, the thing that we had to talk around to a kid from Brooklyn was, you know, Tulsa, Tulane, the Texas schools,” he said. “That didn’t necessarily fit what they envisioned in college -- Madison Square Garden, the Big East Tournament, Villanova.”

UConn announced last week that it is leaving the AAC to return to the Big East, where it won seven conference tournaments and three of its four national championships.

The timing of move has not been finalized, but Hurley said the excitement he’s been hearing both from fans and prospects has been palatable.

“Kids are getting back to me a lot quicker,” he said. “And some guys who weren’t being as responsive, who I stopped communicating with, did come out of the woodwork and ask me how I was doing.”

Incoming freshman guard James Bouknight, who is from New York, said he and his teammates are also pumped about the move.

“I’m going to be able to go home, play in front of my family, friends,’' he said. “But the focus is still this year.”

Hurley said he’s warned his players they can’t afford to look too far ahead and their goal right now should be improving on the dismal 6-12 conference record they had last season. He said to do that, they will need to pay with a chip on their shoulder.

“It’s got to be an us-against-the-world mentality, because I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of love lost for us in this league this year, both with fans and with everything associated with the league,” Hurley said. “For me, I thrive on that. I can’t wait for it. And these guys are also going to have to kind of enjoy being the villain.”