Back to School
Bobby Hurley joins brother’s staff at Wagner College.
by Brendan Bowers / @StepienRules
Earlier this month, Danny Hurley, the coach who transformed St. Benedict’s of Newark, NJ into a national prep powerhouse over the last nine seasons made the leap to the Division I college ranks by accepting the head job at Wagner College in Staten Island, NY.
Last week, he added the Division I all-time assists leader, two-time national champion, Final Four MVP, AP All-American, and former Lottery pick of the Sacramento Kings to his coaching staff. And he had to look no farther than his brother Bobby to find him. I caught up with Bobby Hurley Wednesday night, after his hiring the previous day.
“I’m very proud of what Danny’s accomplished thus far at St. Benedict’s, and I’m proud to be a part of what he’s doing here at Wagner. In the short time I’ve been around him here I’ve learned a lot already, and saw some things that I hadn’t seen before, so I’m constantly filing things away, and learning everyday just being around him.”
That dynamic of learning is something that’s been a part of these two brothers’ relationship since before their playing days for their father — Bob Hurley Sr — at Jersey City St. Anthony HS, and it continues to evolve today. (Bob Sr., as a note, is scheduled for induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in August, alongside the likes of Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone.)
“Danny and I grew up as competitors, always in the gym, learning the game, and always playing against each other. As we got older though, probably around 20 or so, a switch flipped, and we became more like best friends. I feel like I can go to Danny with anything, and I’ve watched his program at St. Benedict’s very closely over the years.”
Another program Bobby’s watched closely is the one that has his No. 11 hanging from the rafters. He still keeps up with Coach K – who called Bobby “the best PG he’s ever coached” in a press release on Tuesday – and spoke with him as recently as this week, coming off Duke’s recent national championship run.
“We stay in touch, he [Coach K] had a crazy week this week, but I did talk to him a couple days ago. I spoke with him after the ACC Tournament, and I spoke with him during the NCAA Tournament as well. I like to tell him what I think about his team, and give him my feedback, and Coach is great in that he listens to me and lets me share my thoughts with him.”
Now Bobby will be sharing his thoughts with the brother he grew up competing against, and instead of watching his brother’s team from a distance, he’ll be right next to him on the bench. Bobby spoke about their shared vision for what they hope to do now at Wagner College.
“We are looking to bring the kinds of players in that could take the program to a higher level. There’s a lot of competition out there, but we think we can maybe find the kinds of kids that some of the bigger schools aren’t looking at. Danny is looking to put in an up-tempo system that plays great man-to-man defense – similar to what he did at St. Benedict’s — and we are looking for the kinds of kids that can come in and play in that system at a high level.”
As far as coaching at a high level, he’s played under two coaches who are arguably the most successful coaches of their era — at their respective levels — in his father and Coach K. He talked about the common theme he hopes to build on, as now a coach himself, from his time playing under those two Hall of Famers.
“They are definitely at the top of their games in terms of knowledge, and I don’t think you could find two bigger names of basketball people to say than those two, but they are different. They have different personalities, obviously my father works with HS players and Coach is on the college level, but what they both share in common is a tremendous passion for the game. When I played I tried to play with that passion, and that’s the same passion I feel like I can bring as a coach here at Wagner.”
That passion made Hurley a lottery pick as a player, and he’s brought that same passion to his professional life — since his five-year NBA career ended abruptly due to a near fatal traffic accident — that’s made him a success on the business front as well. He’s dabbled some in basketball since his playing days, but up until now, his primary focus had been on his thoroughbred racing business — based out of Hollywood Florida — that’s included amongst other things, a Kentucky Derby run.
“I was involved in the thoroughbred business, and did fairly well with it for a number of years. Over the last couple years though, I’ve scaled back on that considerably, and right now, it’s not really a business I was looking to expand or grow. But more than that, I really just wanted to get back involved with basketball, and I felt like if I didn’t do that, that would be something I’d look back on and regret. The change back to basketball is something that I’m really excited about.”
In 2003 Bobby did spend time with the 76ers as a scout, but over the last few years he has been working with younger players, and feels like the college game is a place he can come home to.
“I did spend a year with the Sixers, and Billy King gave me a great opportunity there. I was able to learn a lot about talent evaluation, and a lot about the behind the scenes stuff in the NBA, and it was a great experience for me. As opposed to the NBA though, I feel like I’m better suited to develop kids at the college level, and I’m excited to be a part of the college game again. Over the last few years, I did some low-key basketball stuff, working with kids on a smaller level, running work-outs, and things along those lines, but it’s great to get back into to basketball full go.”
And as far as the 17-year-old college basketball assists record of 1,076 career dimes?
“I don’t think it will ever be broken, but I have two reasons for that. Number one, I don’t think anyone that’s good enough to break it will stay in college long enough to challenge that number, and two, I don’t think anyone’s going to play with the quality of players and the kinds of coaches that I did to allow them to be able to break an assists record like that. More than that mark though, I’m mostly proud of the fact that we won, and we won big.”
As a coach, Danny Hurley’s won big as well over the last nine seasons. His record reads 223-21, he’s coached four McDonald’s All Americans, including JR Smith of the Denver Nuggets, and this past season he sent five players to Division I programs. If the Hurley brothers are going to win big at Wagner, though, they’ll have to turn around a Seahawks program that went 5-26 last season, with only one scholarship available at the moment. But while that hill may seem steep to climb, I’m guessing they find their way to the top. And whether that ascent happens this year, next year, or years down the road, college basketball just feels better with Bobby Hurley a part of it, and count me as a guy who’s glad he’s back.