CHICAGO – The UConn men’s basketball program could lose three, potentially four, national championship players to the pros. But Andre Jackson, one of the four most likely to play to be an NBA draft pick this week, doesn’t think a repeat title is out of the question for the Huskies despite losing so much talent.
“I mean shooting, every year you can be as good as you want,” said the 2022-23 national champions vocal leader. “That’s how I look at it.”
After the championship game, Donovan Clingan sat in the locker room with a pair of blue sunglasses and a chain around his neck, remembering advice he had received moments earlier from UConn legends Emeka Okafor and Ray Allen. “They just told me to live in a gym this summer and one day I could take over that program,” he said.
In the corner, Clingan’s classmate and roommate Alex Karaban, who could have been the only returning starter if Jackson and Tristen Newton decided to turn pro along with Adama Sanogo and Jordan Hawkins, was explaining his thoughts on the future. He mentioned that he spoke to Clingan about how fun it would be to fight 4v4 in the national titles like Breanna Stewart did during her legendary career on the women’s team.
While Jackson was the face of leadership for the Husky, and Sanogo the one who made it an example, freshman duo Clingan and Karaban played no small part. Both will be back looking to repeat themselves, and Jackson is confident it is possible, whether he returns to the lineup or not.
“It all depends on what you do in the locker room. It’s about what you do on the court, what you bring to the game, the right things. I think they could do it again,” he said after a brawl in front of professional scouts in Chicago. “It’s all about intentions. I mean go there every day and not get complacent because you’ve already done it, go there every day and practice the competition even harder because you did it. And now you know it’s going to be 10 times harder to do it again.”
College basketball has not seen a repeat national champion in more than 15 years since Florida won back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007. The Gators, trained by Billy Donovan, had the same starts for five years where they won.
This, in today’s landscape, is seemingly impossible to imagine that this could happen again.
As of May 20, with no additional transfer portals and decisions by Newton and Jackson yet to come, UConn’s 2023-24 roster will feature a minimum of five grantees with championship experience and a coaching staff that Jackson believes will be determined to stay on top .
“Understand that having a great leader like Coach (Dan) Hurley and Coach Luke (Murray), Coach Kimani (Young) and Coach (Tom) Moore – a great coaching staff – will continue to motivate you to strive for greatness,” Jackson said. . “They won’t accept anything less, especially after a win.”
Jackson believes in Clingan, a 7-footer from Bristol who several analysts say could make the top 10 if he entered the NBA Draft this year without starting college, doing exactly what Okafor and Allen said he could do .
“He’s going to make giant strides, he’s a really dynamic player, someone who will make an impact on both sides of the court. Everyone saw what he was able to do in short minutes this year playing behind one of the best college basketball players in Adam, so now he’s stepping into that role,” Jackson said.
“And he’s a really, really dedicated guy. So I know he’ll be ready for the occasion. A guy who really puts in the work, a guy who has a lot of heart and a lot of confidence. He’s one of my best friends, if not my best friend on the team, so I know what he’ll do and he knows what he’ll do. He definitely has it in his mind to go out there and compete again and prove himself. So I love this guy and wish him the best.
Clingan averaged 6.9 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in just 13.1 minutes per game as a freshman last season. Karaban, who entered the starting role after injuring his foot in the season opener against Samson Johnson, became the main contender for Freshman of the Year at the Big East.
Shooting over 40% from 3-point range, Karaban put together a series of clutch shots, buzzer hits, and swings of momentum throughout the season, adding to his 9.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.7 assists for the year.
Jackson thinks Karaban will make a leap in second grade.
The best leader, all about the right things! It will be a draft steal! 🐺💙 https://t.co/xP6J3aPSp7
— Alex Karaban (@AlexKaraban) May 17, 2023
“He’s always going to jump because he’s the hardest working guy who goes to the gym all the time, the guy who has all the stuff,” Jackson said. “Very high IQ, will always make a big leap. And this is my guy, my brother. I love you AK, he’s my dog forever.”
Karaban saw Andy Katz’s video of Jackson’s commentary and reposted it saying, “The best leader in the world, all about the right things! He’ll be draft stealing!”
The Clingan and Karaban area will be the No. 3 recruitment class in the country, on 247Sports, singled out by Stephon Castle, an All-American quarterback. Hurley and the staff would love to build with an experienced shooter to fill the role of Joey Calcaterra’s “Joey California” and potentially find another shooter, but for now, Jackson said, the foundations are strong.