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Back to the Garden (State) | Sports

Two New Jerseyans on the UConn men’s basketball team, coach Dan Hurley and guard Tarin Smith, will be playing what amounts to a home game when the Huskies play Florida State today in Newark. They’d love to put on something of a show against the 11th-ranked Seminoles.

“Both of us. You want to go to your home town, show them what you’ve been working on, make them proud. So that’s what we’re going to do,” Smith said.

But it’s another Husky who may have the most motivation.

UConn forward Tyler Polley grew up in Florida rooting for the Seminoles. His father Tommy, after all, was a standout linebacker for the Seminoles football team and helped them to the 1999 national championship.

“Yeah, I did (root for FSU). I went to a lot of football games growing up,” Polley said.

When it came time to pick a college, Polley was hoping to choose FSU. It turns out, the feeling wasn’t exactly mutual.

“During the recruiting process I actually thought I was going to go there, but they never offered me. So that was out of the picture,” Polley said.

Polley re-told the story with a smile and isn’t exactly out for blood today. At least, not because he feels particularly snubbed.

“There was a connection, but I guess they didn’t see anything in me. It’s whatever,” Polley said, trying to play off any animosity.

Whether revenge is really a factor or not, the 6-foot-9 Polley is beginning to pose a threat to any opponent the Huskies face these days. He’s coming off a career high 16-point effort in Wednesday’s win over Lafayette.

A power forward for the Huskies (7-2), Polley’s outside shooting ability could be a major factor against an extremely tall and physical team Florida State (7-1).

When the Huskies are on offense, a few Polley 3-pointers could draw a Seminole defender out of the paint and even a miss might open up offensive rebound opportunities.

At the other end of the court, though, the challenge for Polley and the rest of the Huskies is immense according to their coach.

“Our ability to guard the ball and stay in front of the ball with their physical drivers,” Hurley said when asked about the keys to beating the Seminoles. “And then the war that’s going to go on when the ball goes up. When they shoot it, they attack it. With men.”

Florida State is a team that, in Hurley’s words, “tries to punk you physically.”

UConn certainly appears to be a tougher team than it was last season but today’s matchup is a significant challenge to that theory.

“I think we’re developing a reputation of being a tough team,” Hurley said. “We’re playing a team that, the reality of Florida State is that they are one of the toughest teams you’ll play against.”

Although they’d love to prove their toughness, the Huskies also have to take advantage of the edges they have. That may involve utilizing a small lineup to frustrate the bigger Seminoles. Hurley has employed a four-guard lineup at various times this season already.

“That’s the new style of basketball. They’re doing it at all levels — NBA, high school, college,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said by phone this week. “Most people are going with the more up-tempo, aggressive style of ball. It’s similar to what a lot of guys are doing in the ACC and around the country. Very seldom do you see the traditional big man that used to exist in basketball. It seems as though you saw that changing when they added that 3-point shot in a few years ago. That seemed to be something that everyone’s leaning towards.”

Today’s game at the Prudential Center is part of the Never Forget Tribute Classic, an event to remember the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the U.S. Mississippi State and Clemson will meet in the first game of the doubleheader at 4 p.m.

The chance for Hurley, a Jersey City native who coached at St. Benedict’s in Newark, to play for a meaningful cause against a top-flight opponent in his old stomping grounds is a great opportunity.

“I don’t get a chance to get back to Jersey City a whole lot. Not unless they have some 6-11 kids that we need,” Hurley said with a laugh.

“We’re staying in a hotel in Jersey City then we’re playing a couple blocks down from where I coached high school ball,” Hurley added. “Jersey City and Newark, probably the two places that mean the most to me.”

Smith, who played for Bob Hurley Sr. at St. Anthony in Jersey City, is equally as excited.

“I went to high school not too far from there. I’m excited about it. It’s going to be a good game, big game. This is a reason you come here, to play in games like this,” Smith said.

And although the Huskies are looking at the Seminoles as a major measuring stick, Hamilton points out that his team is far from a finished product.

“We’ve been able to have some measure of success while we’re still developing. By no means have we accomplished what our goals are. We’re still in the development stages of our team,” Hamilton said.

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