Back to back! UConn fans gather to celebrate another basketball championship

HARTFORD, Conn. — Thousands of fans lined the streets of downtown Hartford on Saturday to fete the UConn men’s basketball team following its second straight NCAA championship, its sixth in the past 25 years.

The players and coaches paraded on a double-decker bus with an open-air top and lifted the national title trophy from the state Capitol to the XL Center, the arena in which the team plays about half its home games. The procession included marching bands, cheerleaders, first responders, top state politicians and other groups as fans shouted and waved UConn signs.

The celebration followed Monday’s 75-60 win over Purdue, which capped one of the most dominant two-year runs in NCAA Tournament history, one in which the Huskies won all 12 games they played by double digits.

Coach Dan Hurley, who has spent the week denying that he was considering leaving the program for another school, told the crowd his focus is on a third consecutive championship, as he and the players gave short speeches outside the arena.

“The champs are here today in Hartford with the best fans in the world,” Hurley said. “Basketball capital of the world — Storrs, Connecticut. Back-to-back champs. Back-to-back champs. … Some of the greatest players to ever wear the UConn uniform are up here, and next year we go for the three-peat! Let’s go!”

Donovan Clingan, the 7-foot-2 sophomore center who announced Friday that he was leaving UConn and entering the NBA draft, thanked the fans and said their support helped fuel the title run.

“I appreciate you guys,” the Bristol, Connecticut, native said. “You guys have been the best fans to me for the past two years. I’ll cherish those moments for the rest of my life. I’ll be a Husky for life. Love you guys.”

The team also will be losing Tristen Newton, the Final Four’s most outstanding player, and Cam Spencer, who both ran out of eligibility when the season ended. Along with Clingan, freshman Stephon Castle could be a lottery pick in the NBA draft this summer if he also decides to leave.

“Thank you for all the support that you guys have given me the past two years and supporting the team,” Newton told the crowd. “Without you guys, back to back wouldn’t have been possible.”

This was the 15th victory parade for UConn, which in addition to its six men’s basketball national championships has won 11 women’s basketball titles over the past 30 years.

There were joint parades in 2004 and 2014 when UConn won both the men’s and women’s titles in the same season — the only Division I school to accomplish that feat.

The UConn men and women are 17-1 in NCAA basketball title games.

Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, who this week hinted that Hurley would get a pay raise, joined the team on the double-decker bus and the podium.

“Hey America, this is what the basketball capital of America looks like. Right here. Let’s hear it for the Huskies. … We are the champions, my friends.”


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