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The UConn Huskies began last season unranked and ended the season as national champions. In one of the most dominant performances in tournament history, the Huskies pummeled a gritty San Diego State University team, 76-59. 

The win marked the fifth NCAA national champion in the program's history, and the first under coach Dan Hurley. Now the reigning champions are locked-in and reloaded with talent. Unlike last year, they are not flying under the radar. They are ranked No. 6 in the preseason.

Although they lost their captains Adama Sanogo and Andre Jackson—and shooting phenom Jordan Hawkins—the Huskies have a core that is prepared to repeat. Tristen Newton will bring consistency at point guard in his last year of eligibility. He averaged 10.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.5 assists last season. Seven-foot center Donovan Clingan, the hometown hero from Bristol, CT, is poised for a breakout sophomore season. Sophomore forward Alex Karaban also figures to have a standout year. A key contributor to the Husky’s championship team as a freshman, Karaban has been doggedly training in the offseason to perfect his game.

These veterans will lead one of the most exciting recruiting classes in the Big East. Notably, McDonald's All-American and five-star recruit, Stephon Castle, is set to make an impact from the start as a guard. He is known to be electric off the dribble and will share the back court with Tristen Newton. His elite playmaking ability is going to be a weapon to open up shots for Karaban and Cam Spencer, a Rutgers transfer and sharp shooter. Rounding out the freshman class, Castle will be joined by Jayden Ross, Solo Ball, Jaylin Stewart, and Youseff Singare.

Kid Reporter Cillian Johnson and UConn coach Dan Hurley

Kid Reporter Cillian Johnson and UConn coach Dan Hurley

Does the team have something to prove?

"Coming off a national championship, we have a big target on our back," Ross says. "So it’s going to be harder than last year to do. Everyone has our game marked on their schedule. We have to come out and play 100 percent every single day."

Coach Hurley refuses to be content with just one shining moment: "This is probably the hardest I’ve coached the team. It almost rivals Year One when you are just so hyper vigilant about complacency or any cracks in techniques."

At center court of the Werth Basketball Center, UConn’s state-of-the-art practice facility, Hurley has five cardboard replicas of each trophy available to them over the 2023-2024 season. They are tangible reminders of the goal. Hurley says, "It's about winning championships and winning. We have multiple chances to win trophies this year, and we want to win as many as possible."

Can they repeat? The last teams to repeat were the 2006 and '07 Florida teams and the 1991 and '92 Duke teams, led by Coach Hurley’s brother, Bobby Hurley at point guard.

Coach Hurley doesn't need sibling rivalry to motivate him: "With the portal, with NIL, with early entry NBA, with the way our roster turned over, the chance to make history and have a potentially legendary career at a legendary place—and be a back-to-back champion—is something worth putting everything into."