New Jersey connection runs deep with UConn men
UConn's New Jersey ties run deep.
Redshirt junior R.J. Cole is from Union and played at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City.
Sophomore Jalen Gaffney, who attended Westtown School in West Chester, Pa., hails from Columbus.
Freshman Adama Sanogo, a native of Mali, went to The Patrick School in Hillside.
Assistant coach Kevin Freeman had an all-state career at Paterson Catholic High School before playing at UConn.
And, of course, coach Dan Hurley, who's heart belongs to the Garden State. He grew up in Jersey City, played at Seton Hall, served as an assistant coach at St. Anthony and Rutgers as well as head coach at St. Benedict's Prep.
UConn's Jersey crew will be back in familiar territory on Wednesday, playing Seton Hall in a Big East game at the Prudential Center in Newark.
Hurley spoke about his fondness for his home state last fall.
"I'm an emotional person," Hurley said. "Seton Hall is a place that's meant a lot to me. I met my wife there, Andrea. My oldest son, Danny, is going to graduate from there this year. Having grown up in Jersey City and having played there, going from an immature kid going into Seton Hall and leaving there a young man that was somebody I was proud of going out the door, then obviously St. Benedict. St. Benedict holds a huge place in my heart where I learned how to be a leader and how to be a head coach.
"... I'll spend quite a bit the day of the game, the day before the game, just thinking about the journey and reflecting how full circle life goes."
Hurley's Jersey boys have helped the Huskies (12-6, 9-6) move close to securing an NCAA tournament bid.
Let's start with Cole, who as a child attended Jim Calhoun's basketball camp. He spent two seasons at Howard University before transferring to UConn.
A veteran point guard, Cole has emerged a reliable scorer and leader in recent weeks, easing the burden on star James Bouknight. He's really done it all in the last five games during which UConn has gone 4-1, averaging 17 points, 4.8 assists and 3.4 rebounds, 1.8 steals while committing just six turnovers overall.
After sitting out as a transfer, Cole needed time to adjust to playing with a new team and competing on a higher level. He's finally hit his stride.
"I'm just staying the course, just trusting in the process and never being too high or being too low," Cole said. "The game, the flow, being a leader, everything, all that stuff, letting it come to me rather than trying to force it."
Hurley is not surprised by Cole's contribution.
"We saw this a lot at practice last year and we saw this a lot at Howard," Hurley said. "He's found his rhythm and timing at an important time."
Sanogo, an agile and athletic 6-foot-9 power forward, has been a pleasant surprise this season. He beat out senior Josh Carlton for a starting job. He's active under the basket and possesses a soft shooting touch, averaging 6.2 points and 4.4 rebounds.
He's a major part of the program's foundation for the future.
"He's going to be a dominator for us down the road," Hurley said. "This guy is going to be an all-conference level player next year."
Gaffney, a back-up guard, has made a limited but valuable contribution. He poured in a career-high 20 points in the last meeting with Seton Hall, an 80-73 loss on Feb. 6 in Storrs.
On Wednesday, Gaffney, Sanogo, Cole, Hurley and Freeman get another crack at the Pirates.
Cole prefers not to make a big deal about his homecoming.
"I just want to go out there and play," Cole said. "Me going back home really doesn't matter to me. It's a basketball game and we've got business to handle, so that's how I'm taking my approach to the game on Wednesday."
More New Jersey players are on the way.
Class of 2022 recruit Corey Floyd, Jr., a Roselle Catholic guard, and Patrick School forward Samson Johnson, have committed to UConn.
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Kevin Freeman is leaving the UConn basketball program after spending one season as an assistant coach at his alma mater but will remain at the university in another role.
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