Fans welcome UConn’s repeat champs back to the ‘Basketball Capital of the World’

Apr 10, 2024, 6:00 AM | Updated: Apr 15, 2024, 1:58 pm

UConn head coach Dan Hurley, center, and his players celebrate after the NCAA college Final Four ch...

UConn head coach Dan Hurley, center, and his players celebrate after the NCAA college Final Four championship basketball game against Purdue, Monday, April 8, 2024, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

STORRS, Conn. (AP) — UConn’s men’s basketball team returned Tuesday night to the campus the school has branded the “Basketball Capital of the World.”

Fans lined the streets in Eastern Connecticut, cheering as the team’s buses passed by on the hourlong journey from Bradley International Airport to Gampel Pavilion.

Several thousand fans waited inside the arena to hear from coach Dan Hurley and the UConn players, who beat Purdue 70-65 on Monday night for the school’s second title in a row and sixth in program history.

Hurley pointed out that the team began working toward its goals last June, a couple of months after winning the program’s fifth title.

“And then we just won absolutely everything,” he said as the crowd began to roar its approval. “We won everything, everything — Big East regular season, Big East Tournament, we won the East Region and the we went and got you your sixth national championship, went back-to-back like we talked about.”

The coach also used the occasion to unveil the newest plaque on the arena’s “Husky of Honor” wall honoring guard Tristen Newton, the Final Four’s most outstanding player.

“Immortal,” Hurley said. “Immortal.”

The welcome home ceremony capped a full day of celebrations that began with the Huskies’ win over Purdue in Arizona.

Thousands of students spilled onto campus after the final horn in a party that stretched into the early morning hours.

UConn police said six people, ranging in age from 18 to 21, were arrested during the celebrations. Charges ranged from criminal mischief to rioting to interfering with police. Any students arrested also face university discipline.

Someone took a downed traffic sign and smashed it through part of the glass front of the student recreation center, but for the most part the celebrations were peaceful, school spokesman Mike Enright said.

A victory parade is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday through Hartford from the state Capitol to the XL Center, where another victory rally will be held.

“For the second year in a row, the UConn men’s basketball team wowed the nation by dominating the NCAA Tournament, and now it’s time for Connecticut to give them the victory celebration they deserve,” Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said.

Such festivities have become somewhat routine at UConn, which in addition to its six men’s basketball national championships has had 11 women’s titles over the past 30 years. The school is 17-1 in NCAA basketball title games.

“UConn has a big standard now and that’s winning championships, so we’re going to continue to do that,” Donovan Clingan, UConn’s 7-foot-2 sophomore center, told the crowd Tuesday night.

Last year, 16 people were injured, 39 people were arrested and six students ended up being expelled following more widespread vandalism.

Precautions were in place Monday designed to prevent a repeat of that.

In advance of the Final Four, the school removed the aluminum light posts along Hillside Road, the main thoroughfare through the center of campus, and replaced them with temporary lighting.

The school also limited the size of the campus watch party. Only 6,700 students, all of whom won tickets to the event through a lottery, were allowed inside Gampel Pavilion, and they were seated in the upper bowl of the 10,000-capacity arena.

The general public was barred from the event and, unlike last year, no alcohol was sold or allowed inside, Enright said.

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Fans welcome UConn’s repeat champs back to the ‘Basketball Capital of the World’