HOUSTON -- Throughout its dominant NCAA Tournament run, UConn kept cardboard cutouts of the national championship trophy on display in its locker room as a reminder of what the team was working toward. As Huskies coach Dan Hurley explained, the idea was to offer the players a visual, a reminder of their joint goals in an era of individual player empowerment.
"You've really got to turn from September through to when the season ends into the 'we' season because you know the 'me' season is coming very soon," Hurley said. "It really hits you as soon as you play your last game, where it goes from 'we' to 'me.'"
UConn will be celebrated with a parade in the days ahead. Eventually, a banner will be raised inside Gampel Pavilion in Storrs. There will be no shortage of celebrations for what the Huskies accomplished during the 2022-23 "we" season. But lurking in the background is the reality that the 2023 "me" season has begun, and even the national champions are not immune.
Several key players face big decisions in the days ahead: Return to UConn, head to the NBA Draft or hit the transfer portal in search of new on-court roles or potential NIL paydays. Of the eight players who were part of the Huskies' rotation Monday night, only reserve guard Joey Calcaterra is out of eligibility.
But the modern realities of college basketball suggest he won't be the only member of the group departing the program. In some ways, UConn is now a victim of its own success. As the Huskies found their stride on the national stage, NBA Draft buzz around star shooting guard Jordan Hawkins and others only increased.
Exiting the season, small forward Andre Jackson and centers Adama Sanogo and Donovan Clingan are also facing big draft decisions after building their stock while displaying unique skill sets on college basketball's biggest stage. With a five-man signing class ranked No. 4 nationally on the way, here is a look at the decisions facing the rotation players with remaining eligibility from the Huskies' 2022-23 roster:
G Jordan Hawkins
Hawkins averaged 16.3 points on 50% 3-point shooting during UConn's six NCAA Tournament games to cap a breakout sophomore season. The 6-foot-5 marksman upped his average from 5.8 points as a freshman to 16.2 during his second season after ranking as a a four-star prospect in the Class of 2021. He drilled 38.8% of his 3-pointers on 7.6 attempts during the 2022-23 campaign and has the athleticism to make it at the next level.
He needs to add muscle to his frame in order to handle the defensive demands of the next level, but as an elite, high-volume shooter, Hawkins owns an in-demand skillset. Hawkins could certainly benefit from another year in a collegiate strength program, but his stock may wind up being too high to justify a return to the college game.
C Adama Sanogo
At just 6-foot-9 and with good-not-great athleticism, Sanogo is not an elite rim protector. His best weapon for UConn has been his offense acumen in the post. However, the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player showed some tricks in recent weeks that could make him interesting to pro scouts. Sanogo added the 3-point shot to his arsenal during the 2022-23 season by hitting 36.5% of his attempts from the arc and looked great as a passer when Gonzaga brought double teams during the Elite Eight. He also has the chance to become a serviceable perimeter defender since he has better-than-expected lateral agility for a player of his size and frame.
But crazy as it may seem, the star of the Huskies' run does face at least some degree of uncertainty. It's hard to imagine an NBA franchise taking Sanogo as a first-round pick because of how de-emphasized centers of his type have become at the next level. With Clingan also emerging as one of college basketball's top centers, Hurley must figure out how to walk a tightrope. Sanogo and Clingan made for a dynamic one-two punch at the five for UConn during the Huskies' title run, but they played together less than 8% of the time.
C Donovan Clingan
Clingan logged just 13.9 minutes per game during his true freshman season, but the 7-foot-2 center still proved to be one of the nation's most dangerous shot blockers. The former four-star prospect also hit 65.9% of his attempts from the field. With increased minutes, he could be a walking double-double and All-American. But how many minutes will be available if Sanogo is back in a UConn uniform next season?
The NBA could be an option for Clingan, who has drawn comparisons to Utah Jazz center Walker Kessler for his rim protection and floor-running capabilities as a seven-footer. Neither are 3-point shooting threats and both have limitations as perimeter defenders, but Clingan's interior defense and ability as a lob threat make him a potential pro.
G Andre Jackson
At 6-foot-6 and with a lengthy frame, Jackson has the physical tools and all-around game to thrive at the next level. He averaged just 6.7 points per game during his junior season but also pulled down 6.2 rebounds, dished out 4.7 assists and collected 1.1 steals per game. Jackson's career 29.3% 3-point shooting mark leaves something to be desired from an NBA standpoint. But in terms of versatility, tools and intangibles, the former four-star prospect is an NBA-caliber player. Aside from the towering Clingan, Jackson rated as the Huskies' best defender, per evanmiya.com.
Other UConn rotation players
Nahiem Alleyne and Tristen Newton: Both guards were listed a seniors on the 2022-23 roster but have one season of eligibility remaining because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alex Karaban: At 6-foot-8 and with a smooth 3-point shot, Karaban could certainly become an NBA prospect in his own right over time. For now, the wing seems on track to return after an excellent redshirt freshman season.
Hassan Diarra: His role decreased later in the season, but Diarra is an excellent perimeter defender with two seasons of eligibility remaining. The 6-foot-2 guard may have trouble carving out a steady role again next season with five-star freshman guard Stephon Castle on the way.