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Another sweet championship parade for the Huskies

Donovan Clingan grabs the NCAA championship trophy as confetti rains down on the Huskies at Saturday’s championship parade in downtown Hartford. More parade photos

HARTFORD, April 13, 2024 – For weeks, we’ve been watching the UConn men’s basketball team on its journey to capture a second consecutive national championship.

We watched the Huskies in New York as they captured their first Big East tournament since 2011. UConn remained in New York City with victories in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament in Brooklyn before going to Boston to capture the East Region championship.

The Huskies won their sixth national championship in the Arizona desert on Monday night with a 75-60 victory over Purdue – their record 12th straight NCAA tournament win with a double-digit margin of victory.

UConn became the first team to win back-to-back championships since Florida in 2006 and 2007.

On Saturday, we could finally celebrate in person with the Huskies with another championship victory parade in downtown Hartford. According to estimates from the Hartford Police Department, an estimated 60,000 fans swarmed into the streets to cheer on their Huskies.

“One of the coolest things about winning a national title is the parade,” UConn center Donovan Clingan said. “That is one thing that you will always remember.”

In a city that once hosted a parade for the Whalers after they won a single NHL playoff series in 1986, it was a chance to celebrate, grab a few souvenirs and roar outside the aging XL Center, the part-time home for the Huskies.

Fans of all ages lined the parade route. Older fans had their chairs set up along the street while younger parents held the hands of their youngsters – the newest fans to join UConn nation.

“That was a lot of fun,” guard Cam Spencer said. “To have all of those UConn fans out there was incredible. It’s insane. You really can’t describe it.”

“Everywhere we went this year, on the road, MSG (Madison Square Garden in New York), Brooklyn to Boston to Phoenix, every time we walked into the arena we always said, ‘The champs are here,’ UConn head coach Dan Hurley said.

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

The crowd roared in approval and Gov. Ned Lamont, just a few feet away from Hurley, quickly put up his hand and waved it with three fingers in the air.

With all of the love and support for their national champions still in the air, Hurley and the Huskies met with the media in the concourse of the XL Center as a few members of the Hartford Wolf Pack got in an afternoon skate for their Saturday night contest.

The questions quickly turned to who would be in uniform next season and how Hurley and his staff would construct a team that could go for a third straight NCAA title.

Clingan announced on Friday that he would forgo his final two years of eligibility to declare for the NBA draft. Freshman guard Stephon Castle and sophomore guard Alex Karavan haven’t made decisions on their collegiate futures.

Guards Cam Spencer and Tristen Newton have exhausted their eligibility.

No rest for the champions. But that is what Hurley and his staff signed up for coaching in the Basketball Capital of the World.

But for a few hours, this group of men, which won’t ever play another collegiate game, was together making sweet memories with the fans that adore them.

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 40 years. He was inducted into the New England High School Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2018.

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