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.
In coaching battle of former Duke point guards, Marquette prevails over Arizona State
NEW YORK — As a young kid, Steve Wojciechowski looked up to Bobby Hurley.
Hurley, five years older than Wojo, was the floor general as Duke won back-to-back NCAA championships in the early 1990s before Wojo went on to become the Duke point guard in the latter part of the decade.
On Tuesday night, the two men faced off as coaches in the Legends Classic championship game, with Wojo and Marquette prevailing over Hurley and Arizona State, 78-73 in overtime, at Barclays Center.
“Bobby was an idol of mine when I was a kid,” Wojciechowski said. “I wasn’t like a kid kid. He’s not that much older than me but he was somebody that I looked up to and admired. And it’s amazing, you’re watching somebody on TV as a middle-schooler and a younger high schooler and now to be able to call him a friend.”
“Bobby is one of the best competitors in the history of college basketball and he’s a terrific coach from a basketball-rich family, Wojciechowski continued. “But more importantly he’s a helluva person and it was an honor to compete against him and his team and I know he’s going to have outrageous success at Arizona State.”
The two men arrived at their current jobs via very different paths.
Along with running buddies Christian Laettner and Grant Hill, Hurley, now 44, was the face of Duke in the early 1990s, but was never a part of Mike Krzyzewski‘s coaching tree. He left the basketball world completely to breed horses after a 1993 truck accident nearly killed him and prematurely ended his NBA career.
The former St. Anthony’s high school legend was lured back to basketball by his younger brother, Dan, and first served as an assistant at Wagner and Rhode Island before landing a head coaching job at Buffalo. After leading the Bulls to the NCAA Tournament last season, he was wooed by numerous programs and ultimately landed at Arizona State in April.
Wojciechowski, 39, was known for perfecting the floor-slap on the Duke teams of the mid-to-late 1990s and never won an NCAA championship as a player. He then spent 15 years under Coach K from 1999-2014, becoming associate head coach in 2008. He was on the staff when Coach K won his third and fourth NCAA championships in 2001 and 2010 respectively. In 2014, “Wojo” finally branched out on his own to take over a Marquette program that he has vowed to return to glory.
“I respect what Steve did as a player and I always followed the Duke program after I left,” Hurley said. “He played the position with tenacity and fire and passion and his team played that way tonight and they have some really good pieces to work with. I’m happy he’s doing well and it was a great game, a great competitive contest.”
Both men appear to face bright futures in the near-term at their respective programs.
Wojo landed a nationally ranked recruiting class in 2015, highlighted by Wisconsin native Henry Ellenson, a former McDonald’s All-American who was named the MVP of the Legends Classic after going for 18 points and 11 rebounds in the final.
Ellenson, projected as the No. 8 pick in the 2016 NBA Draft by DraftExpress.com, could end up being the Big East’s first one-and-done player since Pitt’s Steven Adams in 2013
In the Class of 2016, Marquette already has signed small forward Sam Hauser. After taking the Arizona State job, Hurley landed some nice pieces in junior college standouts Andre Spight, Obi Oleka and Maurice O’Field along with transfers Shannon Evans and Torian Graham, who are sitting out the season.
Hurley has already signed two players for 2016 — Seattle shooting guard Sam Cunliffe and Dallas big man Jethro Tshisumpa. He’s also strongly in the mix for 7-footer Thon Maker of Orangeville Prep (Ontario), who has a strong relationship with Arizona State assistant Brian Merritt. He is also being courted by Indiana, Notre Dame and St. John’s, among others.
“His kids play very hard for him,” Wojciechowski said of Hurley. “Obviously, they’re well coached. The longer he’s there, the more his fingertips will show on that program. I have no doubt that he’s going to be an amazing success.”
While both Hurley and Wojo are focused on building their current programs into perennial national powers, they will always be linked to Duke.
That, of course, begs the question of whether either man could ultimately replaced the great Coach K one day.
“Both would be great,” former Duke forward and current ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said. “Tough act to follow. But, I’m not sure it’ll be an issue for five years.” Indeed, even at 68, Coach K has shown no signs of slowing down.
He will step down as the head coach of the U.S. national team after the 2016 Rio Olympics, but who knows how long he’ll keep going at Duke.
He won his fifth NCAA championship in April, just captured the 2K Classic over Georgetown on Sunday at Madison Square Garden, and has the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class coming in next year led by the projected top two picks in 2017 in Jayson Tatum and Harry Giles.
“I loved my team last year. You don’t love every team. It’s impossible. But it’s not like I dislike a team. But I loved that team,” Krzyzewski told The Sporting News last month. “And it’s the whole team. Sometimes you happen onto a starting five that you love, or a couple kids on the team that are really exceptional. But this was the entire group. Like one of those kind of moments in time that you get, and I’m getting it and it’s in my 40th year. Wow. It’s a good thing I didn’t retire.”
When he does retire, some speculate that associate head coach Jeff Capel is a lock to get the job. Who knows what the landscape will look like in three or five years if Krzyzewski does opt to step down?
But for now, two former Duke guards, Hurley and Wojo, are forging their own, very different, coaching paths at Arizona State and Marquette respectively.
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Adam Zagoria is a New York Times contributor and Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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.