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UConn celebrates men’s basketball team at championship rally

Freshman center Donovan Clingan carries the NCAA championship trophy and greets fans as the the UConn men’s basketball team returned to Gampel Pavilion on April 4, 2023, after winning the NCAA championship in Houston.
Ayannah Brown
/
Connecticut Public
Freshman center Donovan Clingan carries the NCAA championship trophy and greets fans as the the UConn men’s basketball team returned to Gampel Pavilion on April 4, 2023, after winning the NCAA championship in Houston.

The UConn men’s basketball team made a triumphant return to Connecticut Tuesday afternoon after winning its fifth NCAA national championship.

Thousands of fans filled Gampel Pavilion on the Storrs campus for a championship rally that featured players and coaches as well as band members and cheerleaders.

Freshman center Donovan Clingan, a Connecticut native, carried in the championship trophy to thunderous applause.

Coach Dan Hurley told the crowd a fifth championship was his goal all year.

“We strived for five [championships] and we got you that fifth, and I promise you, just let us get a little bit of sleep and we’ll start working on No. 6 and we’ll be right back here,” Hurley said.

After the rally, junior guard Andre Jackson Jr. reflected on being back in front of a hometown crowd.

“It felt great,” Jackson said, smiling. “I felt like I was about to play a game at Gampel again. It made me sad that I couldn’t play here right now. It’s just great to just have this type of fan base and this type of atmosphere. So many memories I’ve made in this place already, and I just can't wait to just continue to ... be around this program.”

After defeating San Diego State 76-59 Monday night in Houston, the UConn team flew back to Connecticut Tuesday afternoon. Players and coaches arrived at Bradley International Airport and made their way to Storrs.

UConn’s Jordan Hawkins greets the crowd at Gampel Pavilion after the the UConn men’s basketball team returned to Connecticut after winning the NCAA championship in Austin, Tx.
Ayannah Brown
/
Connecticut Public
UConn’s Jordan Hawkins greets the crowd at Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut, after the UConn men’s basketball team returned to Connecticut after winning the NCAA championship in Houston.

As the team bus approached campus, Hurley saw fans camped out along the route to catch a glimpse.

“You just see the incredible pride that people have in their Huskies,” Hurley told reporters after the rally. “It was probably the first time we had a chance to actually take a deep breath because most of us just passed out on the plane.”

They didn’t get much sleep.

Hurley said he got about 20 minutes.

The crowd at Gampel was loud and featured mostly students, but also families with young children. Festivities remained under control Tuesday.

That was unlike the night before, when a capacity crowd at Gampel attending a watch party spilled out onto campus, and some vandalized campus property.

Light poles were broken and windows were busted in some buildings. A vehicle was turned on its side. Fires were set in trash dumpsters and on wooden benches, officials said.

Fans welcome the UConn men's basketball team back to Gampel Pavilion April 04, 2023, after Connecitcut won NCAA championship in Austin, Tx.
Ayannah Brown
/
Connecticut Public
Fans welcome the UConn men's basketball team back to Gampel Pavilion in Storrs, Connecticut, April 4, 2023, after UConn won the NCAA men's basketball championship in Houston.

UConn reported that 15 people — mostly students — were arrested and charged with various crimes.

Meanwhile, 16 people were transported to area hospitals, though none of their injuries was considered significant, officials said.

UConn police were investigating the vandalism.

Hartford rally planned for Saturday

A victory parade and rally for the Huskies is set for Saturday in downtown Hartford, Gov. Ned Lamont’s office announced.

Saturday’s parade is scheduled to begin at 11:30 a.m. and will start at the state Capitol at the intersection of Trinity and Elm streets.

The rally will begin around noon outside of the main entrance of the XL Center on Trumbull Street.

Chris Polansky joined Connecticut Public in March 2023 as a general assignment and breaking news reporter based in Hartford. Previously, he’s worked at Utah Public Radio in Logan, Utah, as a general assignment reporter; Lehigh Valley Public Media in Bethlehem, Pa., as an anchor and producer for All Things Considered; and at Public Radio Tulsa in Tulsa, Okla., where he both reported and hosted Morning Edition.