Welcome home, champs.
Fresh off their national championship victory in Monday’s NCAA Tournament final, the UConn men’s basketball team was treated to a rapturous welcome from UConn Nation upon their return to Connecticut on Tuesday.
As the team bus made its way from Bradley International Airport to UConn Storrs, fans gathered on highway overpasses to cheer; passing vehicles sounded their horns in celebration; firefighters in Vernon formed a victory arch with two ladder trucks; and a crowd of UConn diehards assembled right off the Interstate 84 exit in Tolland to welcome the champions home.
An even bigger celebration is planned for Saturday, with a victory parade stepping off at 11:30 a.m. at the State Capitol and finishing with a rally in front of the XL Center.
But on Tuesday evening, all eyes were on Storrs as Coach Dan Hurley’s victorious squad made their triumphant return to Gampel Pavilion.
“We had to remind people last night where the basketball capital of the world is, and that’s Storrs, Connecticut,” Hurley told the crowd, who roared their approval.
One by one, the players took their places on a stage inside Gampel before a crowd of students, faculty, staff, and fans.
“Man, oh man,” said sophomore guard Jordan Hawkins, as Bristol native Donovan Clingan held the national championship trophy behind him. “We did that, didn’t we?”
Along with Hurley, all of the players who spoke paid tribute to the support of the UConn faithful.
“This is the most amazing place to play in America,” said junior guard Andre Jackson Jr. “To be back in Gampel feels awesome.”
On campus during the day, students stopped to take selfies in front of the freshly painted words NATIONAL CHAMPIONS adorning Fairfield Way, and the UConn Bookstore did a brisk business as fans from the University and the public flocked to acquire souvenirs of the program’s fifth national championship.
At the rally, Director of Athletics David Benedict connected the team’s relentless drive to championship glory with UConn’s overall philosophy.
“This is why you come to the University of Connecticut, to pursue excellence and to hang banners,” he said.
UConn President Radenka Maric echoed the sentiments of the players, indicating the team behind her as she spoke, and singling out the UConn Pep Band and UConn Cheerleaders for their contributions.
“It’s their day,” Maric said, “and UConn Nation, you are the best. Thank you.”