Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Bob and Dan Hurley won’t coach a single game in the NCAA Tournament.
Neither will Kevin Boyle or Bob Farrell.
Yet between the four men, they will be represented by more than 20 players in the Big Dance.
“You have a lot of pride,” Dan Hurley told SNY.tv. “Jersey has got a unique combination of great coaches at the high school level and also producing great individual players. I think it’s maybe the finest state in the country in terms of that combination.”
The quartet of North Jersey Catholic school coaches cranked out elite Division 1 prospects for years – until Dan Hurley moved to Wagner College from St. Benedict’s Prep before this season and Farrell retired from Seton Hall Prep after the high school campaign.
St. Benedict’s has eight alums in the NCAAs.
Six of Bob Hurley’s former St. Anthony players are in the tournament, five from his undefeated 2007-08 team.
Five of Boyle’s former St. Patrick charges are dancing, as are two Seton Hall Prep grads.
“North Jersey basketball is unbelievable,” said Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, whose team features senior Rashad Bishop of Paterson, N.J., who prepped a year at St. Benedict’s.
“The traditional power programs just alone produced 21 players in this tournament. That doesn’t even count the guys from Linden or different places…so it’s just amazing how many of those guys are helping teams win.”
The Garden State has long produced elite guards, from Bobby Hurley to Shaheen Holloway to Dajuan Wagner to Randy Foye to Kyrie Irving.
This year alone, the Garden State will be represented by a Who’s Who of big-name guards from the quartet of aforementioned prep powerhouses: Ashton Gibbs and Travon Woodall of Pittsburgh, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes and Dominic Cheek of Villanova, Tyshawn Taylor of Kansas, Chris Smith of Louisville, Dexter Strickland of North Carolina and Jio Fontan of USC.
Mike Rosario, a McDonald’s All-American out of St. Anthony, is also on the Florida bench, sitting out a year per NCAA transfer regulations.
Irving, who starred at St. Patrick alongside Strickland, may even make his return during the tournament after having been out since Dec. 4 with a right big toe injury.
“There is a chance Kyrie will play,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday.
Irving is seeking to become the third New Jersey point guard to win an NCAA championship at Duke, following two-time national champion Bobby Hurley and Jason Williams.“You know that if you come into Jersey, particularly North Jersey, you know you’re getting a guy that’s played in big games, that’s played at a high competition level, he’s gotten quality coaching,” Dan Hurley said. “He’s going to be very, very skilled.
“All the guys we’re talking about were all very heavily recruited guys and difference-makers,” Hurley added. “They’re a product of great grassroots programs in Jersey. There’s great AAU. There’s great high school [teams]. There are great camps as well with the Hoop Group. It’s a culmination of a lot of efforts at the grassroots level.”
Woodall and Gibbs said most of the players in the New York/New Jersey area dream of competing in the Big East.
“I think because of the style from our schools like St. Anthony, St. Pat’s and St. Benedicts, most of us want to play in the Big East because we’re used to playing against tough players and tough competition, so we all want to play in the Big East and be closer to home,” Woodall said.
Gibbs and his family are close with Brandin Knight and his family because both starred at Seton Hall Prep. Knight went on to star at Pittsburgh and is now an assistant there.
“Just having that to watch and just trying to strive for something that I wanted to be like, just being in that situation was really motivating for me,” Gibbs said.
Cronin said Big East coaches know that many of the elite Jersey talents will play in the Big East.
“When you go to the East Coast, you know those kids want to play in the Big East,” Cronin added. “So all you’ve got to do, you gotta be the school they choose.”
How pervasive is the North Jersey influence in this year’s NCAA Tournament?
Consider that three of the four No. 1 seeds feature a guard from one of the four North Jersey powerhouses.
Duke, No. 1 in the West, has St. Patrick’s Irving, arguably the team’s best player before suffering the injury.
Pitt, No. 1 in the Southeast, features Gibbs as its leading scorer. St. Anthony’s Woodall is Pitt’s valuable sixth man who started when Gibbs missed several games with a knee injury.
And Kansas, No. 1 in the Southwest, has St. Anthony’s Taylor, who scored 37 points in the final two games of the Big 12 tournament, including a season-high 20 points when the Jayhawks ran past Texas, 85-73, in the tournament championship game.
Dan Hurley has so many former players in this year’s Big Dance that one could conceivably draw up an All-St. Benedict’s Final Four of Louisville (Smith), Pitt (Lamar Patterson), Texas (Tristan Thompson) and Villanova (Stokes).
Bob Hurley could theoretically have players in three-fourths of the Final Four: Kansas (Taylor), Pitt (Woodall) or Florida (Rosario) and Villanova (Cheek).
Boyle could also imagine three Final Four teams with St. Patrick alums: UNLV (Quintrell Thomas), Duke (Irving) and either North Carolina (Strickland) or Villanova (Fisher).
And who knows about next year?
Sterling Gibbs, Ashton’s brother, isn’t headed to the Big East, but he is going to Maryland, where he could add another North Jersey name in the Big Dance.
“No, he didn’t follow suit,” Ashton said, “but he’s doing his own thing.”
**Kemba Walker was almost a Bearcat
**Cronin, Savino ‘winning’ at Cincinnati
**New York area guys bring toughness to NCAA teams
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.