Jalen Adams stood in front of his teammates in the UConn locker room at Madison Square Garden Thursday night and was presented with a military coin by Kevin McMahon, a Wounded Warrior with four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan under his belt.
Adams had just gone for 16 points, 7 boards and 4 assists as UConn beat former Big East rival Syracuse in the semifinals of the 2K Empire Classic.
"To be able to have the honor to present him with the Wounded Warrior coin on behalf of this tournament, the young man earned it," McMahon, who has been embedded with UConn through their first four games this season, told SNY.tv.
Adams went on to tally 20 points as the Huskies lost to Iowa, 91-72, on Friday in the 2K Classic championship game, at one point diving on the floor in front of Hurley for a loose ball. Hurley was ejected late in the game after his second technical foul, getting serenaded by the UConn fans for standing up for his players.
Danny Hurley gets ejected after his second technical but gets the respect of the UConn fans pic.twitter.com/NzWdwBAWyN- Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) November 17, 2018
Despite the loss, Adams' blossoming relationship with Hurley bodes well for UConn in the coach's first year with the program, and Adams' final year.
"They've only known each other since March," McMahon said of Hurley and Adams. "The motivation he has for this team, the love he has for coach Hurley, it's evident in the three days I've spent with this team."
The 6-foot-3 Roxbury, Mass. native initially committed to former UConn coach Kevin Ollie in June of 2014, choosing the Huskies over Louisville and Kansas.
"It's a perfect fit for Jalen," Mass Rivals coach Vin Pastore said then. "The style of play, the freedom that UConn gives their guards, the history of Connecticut guards reaching the NBA, the relationship Jalen built with Kevin Ollie and the fact that Kevin Ollie knows what it takes to be an NBA guard are all excellent reasons Jalen chose UConn."
More than four years later, Hurley needs Adams to lead his team if they are to have any success this year, and Adams needs Hurley to get the best out of him to make his senior year memorable and to potentially have a pro career.
Adams endured back-to-back losing seasons the last two years under Ollie, the man who recruited him. He could have tested the NBA Draft waters last spring but opted to come back for his senior season.
When he took over in March, Hurley told Adams he had been "cheating" and "taking the easy way," according to the Hartford Courant.
"I was going in open-minded," Adams said, according to the Courant. "Some of the stuff [Hurley] was saying, these are some of the things my father [Shawn Adams] was telling me, so maybe he's on the right path. He has been watching me. He knows what's up."
Hurley and Adams have continued to have their ups and downs. Adams sat out a closed scrimmage against Harvard on Oct. 27 and then sat out the first 6 1/2 minutes in an exhibition against Southern Connecticut on Nov. 2.
Now through the first three games of his senior season, he was averaging 17.3 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists, and playing like the kind of guy Hurley needs to lead UConn.
"I've been through the ups, I've been through the downs," he said. "And just learning how to roll with it. Not to get too high or too low. I think I'm adjusting and I think I'm just going off my coach's energy.
"[He's given me] that maturity and that confidence and that edge. ...He's just given me crazy confidence so just that belief from the head coach, it doesn't get any better than that."
He added: "I think his personality connects perfectly with a lot of our personalities."
Iowa coach Fran McCaffery isn't surprised that Hurley has his team playing with an edge.
"He's been successful," he said. "He come from an unbelievable coaching tree. That's how he plays. I think what you see is a group of guys that are buying into that coaching staff....Those kids are battling for him. And when you take over, that's what you want."
Adams hails from the same hometown as former UConn star Shabazz Napier, now with the Nets. Adams would love to follow in the footsteps of guys like Napier and Charlotte Hornets star Kemba Walker, both of whom won NCAA championships at UConn.
That seems like a lofty goal at this point, but the fact that Adams and Hurley are on the same page bodes well going forward for UConn.
Adams didn't leave New York with a championship, a bitter pill for sure. But the goal is to continue to get better going forward.
"This isn't some Disney movie like the Mighty Ducks where overnight this thing's going to [change]," Hurley said after the Iowa loss. "It's going to take us time to get better and hopefully by January/February we're like a real strong team."