What’s next for UConn after national title: NBA Draft, transfer decisions loom as Huskies enter ‘me’ season

HOUSTON — Throughout its dominant run at the NCAA Tournament, UConn kept cardboard cutouts of the national championship trophy on display in its locker room as a reminder of what the team was working towards. As Huskies coach Dan Hurley explained, the idea was to provide players with a visual, a reminder of their shared goals in an era of individual player empowerment.

“You really have to go from September to the end of the season in the ‘we’ season because you know the ‘me’ season is coming very soon,” Hurley said. “It really hits you as soon as you play your last game, where it goes from ‘us’ to ‘me’.”

UConn will be celebrated with a parade in the coming days. Finally, a banner will be raised inside the Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. There will be no shortage of celebrations for what the Huskies accomplished during the 2022-23 “us” season. But in the background lurks the reality that the 2023 ‘me’ season has begun, and even the national champions are not immune.

Several key players face big decisions in the days ahead: whether to return to UConn, head to the NBA draft, or access the transfer portal in search of new on-court roles or potential NIL earnings. Of the eight players who were part of the Huskies rotation on Monday night, only backup goaltender Joey Calcaterra is not eligible.

But the modern realities of college basketball suggest he won’t be the only member of the squad to leave the program. In some ways, UConn is now a victim of its own success. As the Huskies found their stride on the national stage, the NBA Draft buzz around star guard Jordan Hawkins and others only grew.

Leaving the season, small forward Andre Jackson and centers Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan also face big draft decisions after building their stock while displaying unique skills on college basketball’s biggest stage. With a class of five signings ranked No. 4 nationally, here’s a look at the decisions players in the rotation will face with remaining eligibility on the Huskies’ 2022-23 roster:

Jordan Hawkins

Hawkins averaged 16.3 points on 50 percent 3-point shooting in UConn’s six NCAA Tournament games to cap a second breakout season. The 6-foot-5 sniper increased his 5.8-point average as a rookie to 16.2 in his sophomore season after ranking as a four-star prospect in the class of 2021. He has punched 38.8% of his 3-pointers on 7.6 attempts in the 2022-23 campaign and has the athleticism to take it to the next level.

He needs to add muscle to his frame in order to handle the next-level defensive demands, but as a high-volume sniper, Hawkins has a skill set that’s in demand. Hawkins could certainly benefit from another year in a collegiate strength program, but his stock might end up being too high to warrant a return to college play.

C Adama Sanogo

At just 6ft 9in and with a good level of athleticism, Sanogo is not an elite rim protector. His best weapon for UConn has been his attacking acumen in the position. However, the Final Four’s most notable player has shown some tricks in recent weeks that could make him interesting for professional scouts. Sanogo added 3-point shooting to his arsenal in the 2022-23 season, hitting 36.5% of his attempts from the arc and looked great as a passer when Gonzaga brought in double teams during the ‘Elite Eight. He also has a chance of becoming a useful perimeter defender as he has better-than-expected lateral agility for a player of his size and frame.

But as crazy as it sounds, the Huskies running star faces at least some degree of uncertainty. It’s hard to imagine an NBA franchise taking Sanogo as a first-round pick because of how centers of his type have become the next level. As Clingan also emerges as one of the best centers in college basketball, Hurley has to figure out how to walk a tightrope. Sanogo and Clingan had a dynamic five-man double for UConn in the Huskies’ title run, but they played together less than 8% of the time.

C Donovan Clingan

Clingan recorded just 13.9 minutes per game in his true first season, but the 7-foot-2 center has always proven to be one of the most dangerous shot blockers in the nation. The former four-star prospect also completed 65.9% of his attempts from the field. With more minutes, he could be a walking double-double and All-American. But how many minutes will be available if Sanogo is back in a UConn uniform next season?

The NBA could be an option for Clingan, who drew comparisons to Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler for his rim protection and running abilities as a seven-footer. There are also no 3-point shooting threats and both have limitations as perimeter defenders, but Clingan’s interior defense and ability as a lob threat make him a potential pro.

G Andre Jackson

At 6-foot-6 and with a long frame, Jackson has the physical tools and full game to thrive at the next level. He averaged just 6.7 points per game during his junior season, but also had 6.2 rebounds, dished out 4.7 assists, and had 1.1 steals per game. Jackson’s career 29.3 percent 3-pointer leaves something to be desired from an NBA perspective. But in terms of versatility, tools and intangibles, the former four-star prospect is an NBA-caliber player. Aside from the towering Clingan, Jackson is considered the Huskies’ best defenseman, according to evanmiya.com.

Other UConn Rotation Players

Nahiem Alleyne and Tristen Newton: Both guards were among the seniors on the 2022-23 roster, but there is one season of eligibility left due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alex Karaban: At 6-foot-8 and with a smooth 3-point shot, Karaban could certainly become an NBA prospect in his own right over time. For now, the wing seems on track to return after a great freshman season in the redshirt.

Hassan Diarra: His role diminished later in the season, but Diarra is an excellent perimeter defender with two seasons of eligibility remaining. The 6-foot-2 goaltender could struggle to carve out a stable role for himself again next season with five-star freshman goaltender Stephon Castle on the way.

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