Dan Hurley ventured into a tough neck of the woods, Philadelphia basketball, and came out with a point guard. Here’s one anecdote about the newest Husky, Rahsool Diggins, who committed Sunday:
“His freshman year, we made the playoffs at the Palestra,” his high school coach John Mosco said, “and for Philly basketball, The Palestra, that’s the place to be, the semifinals and finals. Afterward, he called me out of the blue and said, ‘Coach, we’re getting back here next year.’ And he was just so hell-bent on getting back there.”
It took two years, but Diggins, as a junior, did lead Archbishop Wood High back to The Palestra in 2020. If that’s an indication of being relentless and goal-oriented, Hurley got another right fit for his UConn program, a point guard in his own image. And we stress the word “another,” because Hurley has been relentlessly on plan, philosophically and geographically, emphasizing the Boston-to-D.C. corridor in his recruiting, even before the move to the Big East.
“First and foremost, [assistant] Tommy Moore did a great job along with Danny,” Mosco said. “To come to Philly in this day and age and get somebody away from Villanova is tough.”
Of course, Villanova, with its two recent championships, is doing just fine in recruiting, could get its point guard in Angelo Brizzi this week and remains the program to beat in the conference.
But this is becoming the thing with UConn’s recruiting under Hurley. Analysts considered Andre Jackson, from Albany, a lock to go to Syracuse, but Hurley landed him. Even Adama Sanogo’s high school coach thought he was headed for nearby Seton Hall, but Hurley landed him. Transfers R.J. Cole and Tyrese Martin also came out of the Pirates’ back yard.
“I can’t tell recruits, ‘You know what it’s like to play at Tulane, East Carolina and those places?’” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard joked last fall. “That won’t work anymore.”
Like an annoying new neighbor, UConn is there. The Hurley name, the UConn brand and the Big East’s cachet are proving to be a potent combination along this certain stretch of the recruiting trail, and it’s creating the opportunity for a resurgence that didn’t seem possible a couple of years ago. The Huskies might have eventually regained respectability, become a tournament team again, in the AAC, but higher ground is accessible now, and Hurley is leveraging his name, his Jersey roots, his school’s tradition and the more appealing conference affiliation.
You never know how any recruit is going to work out, but it’s safe to count Jackson, Sanogo and now Diggins as players UConn would not have gotten if they were still in the AAC.
“I know they won four national championships and they had great guards,” Diggins said. “I’m going to name two point guards, Shabazz Napier and Kemba Walker, yeah. Great crowds, great fans, great atmosphere. And that was it right there, my family is going to be able to come to the games on the East Coast.”
A few other things to know about the newest Husky:
It’s an important long-term choice, as well as get, for Hurley. The current roster has potential and high expectations, but it will be turning over during the next couple of years. His Class of 2021 point guard will arrive on campus next summer, have a year to work with R.J. Cole and Jalen Gaffney, then could be handed the keys for 2022 and beyond.
“He has a knack for getting to the basket,” Mosco says. “You think he’s in trouble, trapped and can’t make a shot, but he ends up taking a circus shot and it goes in. He’s really learning to play within himself and get everyone involved and knowing when to take over.”
Diggins earned a starting job as a freshman in a program with four Division I players starting alongside him. “And he’s just gotten better every year because he works,” Mosco said. “Even during this [shutdown] time, he keeps working to get better. He was on his way to a workout at 6:30 a.m. [Friday] when he told Hurley he was going to UConn.”
He came of age during a seven-OT game against Pope Paul VI last December, with UConn coaches watching. “He fouled out and he was just another coach on the bench, telling JV players what to do and being a leader,” Mosco said. “He really grew up in that sense.”
Mosco is reminded of former Husky A.J. Price when he watches Diggins.
Now, Hurley doesn’t get them all. He’s lost some of his 2021 targets to Villanova, Georgetown, Louisville this spring. But it’s early in the process, and there is a lot of talent in the places where he and his staff have contacts, Moore in New England and elsewhere, Kimani Young in New York and New Jersey, Kenya Hunter in D.C. Samson Johnson, a 6-foot-10 forward from Patrick School in Jersey, Sanogo’s school, may be the next focus.
When it’s time to close, none of it means much, not the school, nor conference nor history, without trust, and everything about Dan Hurley’s latest recruiting win spoke to the trust he’s built, especially with coaches like John Mosco, in the neighborhoods he works.
“What Danny has, Danny knows how to deal with kids,” says Mosco, who goes back to Hurley’s days as a prep coach at St. Benedict’s in Newark. “He’s gotten it from his Hall of Fame father [Bob Sr.3/8. He also puts his arm around these guys and he takes care of them. He cares about them. ... He worries about them, and when you’re a coach, a kid realizes if you’re hollering at them and you care, you’re trying to make them better. Rahsool can handle that.”
Dom Amore can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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