Dom Amore: Newest Husky Yarin Hasson restarts old Israel-UConn talent pipeline; WNBA playoff teams deserve better

·6 min read

Even after 33 years, the gift that was Nadav Henefeld keeps on giving. It was right around this time in 1989 that Henefeld arrived at UConn from Israel to begin the process of enrolling.

Preferring the pastoral setting of Storrs to St. John’s New York campus, Henefeld played one season for Jim Calhoun’s Huskies, the one still known as “The Dream Season” around here. Henefeld helped change the course of UConn’s men’s basketball history, helping lead the Huskies to the Elite Eight. But he put UConn on the map in Israel, as well as the United States.

Others followed. Gilad Katz in 1990, Doron Sheffer in 1993, Uri Cohen Mintz in 1994. Sheffer, like Henefeld, was a major impact player. Orly Grossman played one season for the UConn women, with their first Final Four team in 1991.

For whatever reason the UConn men’s program, its recruiting focus elsewhere, did not get another player from Israel until this week, when Yarin Hasson, a talented but young prospect who had asked for his release from the University of Denver, committed to coach Dan Hurley’s program.

Hasson was overwhelmed by the attention from Connecticut media, even if the number of reporters calling was a fraction of the old “horde” chasing Henefeld and Sheffer for quotes back in the day. Hasson did send some quotes which UConn relayed.

“Here in Israel we have two basketball legends who were players for UConn,” Hasson said. “Maybe you know them. One is Doron Sheffer and the other is Nadav Henefeld. In Israel, UConn is really an iconic university and it’s really well-known here. Second, UConn is for real a big (basketball) school, a really high-major school, in the Big East and I believe in myself, I believe I can play at that level.”

Maybe we know them? Yes, Yarin. Yes, we do. It’s somewhat surprising, though, that a 17-year old would talk of following in footsteps that were left long before he was born. It speaks to the lasting impact of Henefeld and Sheffer. Former UConn players have found work in Israel’s pro leagues, such as Rodney Purvis and Jalen Adams in recent years.

Henefeld and Sheffer were older, and finished products when they came to UConn. Hasson, a 6-foot-9 forward, is more of a project, something UConn can afford to take on with its 12th scholarship given all the front-court talent Hurley has now.

“[Hasson] has very impressive opening figures: his length, height and ability to play close to the basket and far from the basket,” one of his coaches, Elad Hussein, told reporters in Israel. “Mobility in relation to height is the first thing you see when you look at Yarin, but he still has a lot of work to do.”

Hasson played on Israel’s under-18 national team and has grown up in the developmental program of one of the country’s premier programs, Maccabi Rishon LeZion.

“I’m almost 6-10 and I think I can dribble and shoot well,” Hasson said. “I do have a 7-1 wingspan and I’m athletic so I think I’m pretty good shot blocker. In Israel we don’t play on high school teams, but I think I played well for my club team and the national team.”

What we do know is that Hurley and his staff, which has been focusing on the Eastern Seaboard, were very interested in getting the program back involved with international recruiting. This is a start.

“When I talked with Coach Hurley and Coach [Luke] Murray, I really liked what they said to me,” Hasson said. “They like to work hard, they have passion for the game. I liked that because that is my mindset, too.”

A few more items for your Sunday Read:

Sun travel was no party

The Connecticut Sun made their own playoff road hard, losing at home and having to travel to Dallas for a winner-take-all game on Wednesday. They won it 73-58 with a terrific performance, but getting there was half the battle.

“We haven’t had any practice time,” Curt Miller said before the game. “Obviously we had flight issues and cancellations on Monday.”

The WNBA is offering charter flights for teams in the finals. With travel issues across the country they did get charters for the Wings and Sun to complete their first-round series, but Connecticut’s plane had room for only 14 and was weight-restricted, so staffers and gear were stuck in transit until Tuesday. As a result the Sun didn’t get to practice until the day-of-game shootaround.

This has been a long-standing issue, of course, and there is no simple answer, given what we know of the league’s finances. We’ve also heard this week of increased ratings which could boost revenue down the line. The league needs to find a way to do better for its players. Charter flights for playoff teams doesn’t seem like a big ask in 2022.

The Sun survived, in any event, and made it to Chicago to start the semifinal series Sunday.

Celebrating the life of Johnny Egan

Johnny Egan, who led Weaver High to a New England championship in 1957 and went on to star at Providence and play and coach in the NBA, will be honored at the Hartford Public Library on Oct. 1 with a celebration of his life. Egan died in Houston at 83 on July 21. The reception in Egan’s honor will be from 1 to 3 p.m. and among the speakers will be Bob Countryman, one of his Weaver teammates. If you’d like to attend, contact Howie Greenblatt (hbgreen12@yahoo.com), Mike Copeland (mikecopesot@comcast.net), or Countryman (b_counch@hotmail.com) by Sept. 21.

Sunday short takes

* Ravens defensive lineman Travis Jones, the third-round pick from UConn, will miss three to five weeks after hyperextending his knee in a preseason game. Jones was having an impressive camp for Baltimore. Tough break, he’ll miss the opener at the Jets. Another former Husky, linebacker Darrian Beavers, who finished his college career at Cincinnati and was drafted by the Giants, tore his ACL and is lost for the season. Beavers, too, was making a strong impression.

* UHart’s David MacKinnon, who debuted in the majors with the Angels in June, was waived earlier this month. But he was claimed by Oakland and played against the Yankees this week. MacKinnon, who has shown good plate discipline in the minors, is a natural for the A’s and their approach.

*On Aug. 15, UHart took off the “acting” tag and named Sharon Beverly vice president of athletics and recreation as the move to Division III moves on.

* No one is quite sure how the PGA’s new tournament structure will affect the Travelers Championship. It sounds scary, but the Travelers will endure. It has too much going for it not to endure.

* Is anyone in baseball having more sheer fun than Buck Showalter in 2022?

Summer reading

Coming this week, We Are The Troopers: The Women of the Winningest Team in Pro Football History. Author Stephen Guinan tells the story of the Toledo Troopers, a women’s professional football team that won seven championships between 1971 and 79 and in 1983 was recognized by the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the winningest team in pro football history.

Dom Amore can be reached at damore@courant.com