Hugley ‘Handles His Business’

Patrick Gustavson, Outgoing Sports Editor

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On the hardwood, Central Connecticut’s Joe Hugley is a captain, an emotional and vocal player and one who leads by example. Off the court, he always carries himself with a smile, laughing and cracking jokes.

Though it has not always been smooth sailing through his four-year college basketball career, he strives to be the same guy every day as he handles his business.

Hugley’s career began at fellow Northeast Conference school Robert Morris, though he never saw the court. After redshirting his first year, Hugley transferred out of what he called a “terrible situation for me on and off the court.”

He then transferred to Baltimore City CC, a junior college in his home state of Maryland. There, he was named a National Junior Collegiate Athletic Association (NCJAA) All-America honorable mention.

But he returned to Division I and the NEC the next year, committing to CCSU, where found success on and off the court, being named a captain after just one season by his teammates and coaches.

Hugley was utilized as a sparkplug off the bench in his first year as Blue Devil, averaging 9.5 points per game while shooting nearly 40 percent from three.

His junior year, Hugley’s minutes and production increased while shooting an excellent 85.6 percent from the free-throw line.

But with just four games remaining, his season ended abruptly and prematurely.

It was the under eight-minute timeout of the team’s contest against Mount St. Mary’s on Feb. 21, a tough game for the Blue Devils. As the time out ended, Hugley’s teammate Tyler Kohl kicked one of the chairs out of frustration and it launched through the air and hit Hugley in the face.

Hugley went down in a heap and would eventually be escorted off the court by assistant coach Baba Diallo.

The incident resulted in a concussion, a total of 13 stitches, a lost tooth and the end of his career as a Blue Devil- both Hugley and Kohl were suspended indefinitely and missed the final three games of the season.

Hugley said it was perception that led to his suspension. After being escorted to the locker room, what was perceived as an act of aggression by RECentral employees led to the police being called.

“When I went downstairs, I let go of some anger. I went downstairs, I kicked a couple trash cans, I was talking to one of my coaches,” Hugley said.

“And I was upset, bleeding out of my mouth. I’m talking loudly, I’m pacing up and down the hallway. And perception of other people, like RECentral, came out and said I was attacking my assistant coach and attacked Big Mike [Senior Associate Athletics Director Michael Ansarra], but that wasn’t the case.”

Due to the police being called, Hugley said the incident became an issue of code of conduct of the university.

Even months later, Hugley is still unsure as to why he was suspended. While he admitted his actions in the hallway outside the locker room, without context, made him look like he was “losing his mind,” but said it was understandable in the context of what had taken place on the court.

At the time, Hugley had no idea his season was over, as he said there was an overall lack of transparency in the process, not even knowing who had suspended him.

“It was tough to end my season like that. I felt like I got a bad end of the stick, for sure. I thought I controlled myself on the court when it happened,” Hugley said.

But the suspension was not nearly the most difficult thing Hugley was forced to overcome in his time as a Blue Devil. In January of 2018, his only sister, Christina, died unexpectedly at the age of 25.

Just days later, Hugley scored a career-high 33 points against Fairleigh Dickinson.

He said it was through the strength of his mother, a single mother of six, that he was able to be strong. After insisting on coming home, his mother told him to “handle [his] business.”

“If you [his mother] are this strong, I’ve got to handle my business. I was obligated to handle my business because my mom said I was good,” Hugley said.

Hugley said losing his sister changed his perspective on life and even made him a better leader on the basketball court.

“It helped me understand that nothing is permanent. Nothing is guaranteed to you. And I think that’s made me a better leader because every day, I grind like it’s my last because I realized it could be taken away at any moment,” Hugley said.

“It helped me become a better man and understand that there are things I’ve got to take care of before it’s too late. And one of those things is being the best person I can be every single day.”

Despite the trials and tribulations and the ending that left a “bad taste” in his mouth, Hugley spoke incredibly highly of his time at Central.

“It was a good experience for me. I think I became a better basketball player. Donyell [head coach Donyell Marshall] helped me become a better man,” Hugley said. “I’m happy everything happened the way it does and everything happens for a reason. It is what it is. I’m going to keep smiling, that’s me. I’m still cracking jokes. It ain’t going to change me as a person. I’m going to the next chapter in my life and I have no hard feelings towards anybody.”

Hugley will graduate in May with a degree in Communications with a focus in Public Relations. With one year of eligibility remaining, Hugley opted to transfer from the school.

While he said he entered the season with full intentions of remaining at the school through his final two years, he said he first brought up the possibility of transferring about halfway through the year.

But during the last week of the year, following the suspension, Hugley felt he was better off pursuing his final year at another school for a variety of reasons, including the desire to be closer to home, achieving a higher degree and playing professionally someday.

“I felt another place was better than where I’m at now,” Hugley said.

After receiving offers and interest from around 20 schools, Hugley decided to play his final year at East Tennessee State.

In addition to returning nearly their entire core from a 24-win team, Hugley said it was the love they showed that drew him to the school.

“The fans and support there are like nothing that I’ve ever been a part of. The day I committed, my DMs were going crazy. You don’t see that at a lot of places. There’s a close-knit family in basketball,” he added.

Despite being the “new guy,” Hugley said he will bring his natural leadership to the table, simply by being himself.

“I’m only going to give them myself. I’m always going to be the emotional guy. Sometimes my emotions get the best of me. That just makes me who I am,” Hugley said. “I’m going to continue to go hard and be the vocal leader and handle my business.”

Hugley also feels he has something unique to offer them on the court with his ability to shoot as a six-foot-seven-inch stretch-forward.

“When you [the defender] come off that ball-screen, you can’t trap the point guard anymore because the big isn’t just going to roll. You’ve got a big that can pop,” Hugley said.

But another goal Hugley looks to achieve at ETSU is obtaining a master’s degree in Sports Management in the hopes of one day becoming a coach.

“I watch basketball differently. I work camps every Summer. I pick everybody’s mind and working camps and being around guys who love to coach,” he said.

Hugley said the best advice he ever got was from Iona assistant coach Eric Eaton, who recruited him following the season.

He recalled Eaton saying “you are one of the most coachable, likable guys you’ll ever meet. It’s all about relationships. While coaching, it’s not about what you know, but if you don’t know somebody, you’re not going to get the job. Everything about the coaching world is all about relationships.”

Hugley said he is excited to graduate and start a new chapter in his life and the possibilities that lay ahead.

“I had a great two years here. I’m excited as hell about ETSU and what we have to come. And look out for ETSU next year because we’re going to be a force to be reckoned with,” Hugley said. “Come March Madness, we’re going to be in the Sweet 16 and things will be crazy.”