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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.
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Saturday / December 15.
  • How Syracuse star Tyus Battle almost wound up playing for Dan Hurley

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    By ADAM ZAGORIA

    Back when he was in middle school and casting about for a high school to take his basketball talents to, Tyus Battle visited St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark.

    At the time, the Gray Bees were a national power and happened to be led by a young coach on the rise: Dan Hurley.

    For a brief period, Gary Battle, Tyus’ father, considered sending his oldest boy to play for Hurley.

    “Oh yeah, I do remember that,” 6-foot-6 Tyus Battle said Wednesday by phone. “St. Benedict’s was a really good team at that time. That was at the time when I was looking to go to high school and stuff like that. I mean, he’s a really good coach at all levels he’s been at.”

    Hurley ended up leaving St. Benedict’s in 2010 to take his first college coaching job at Wagner, and Battle went on to play at Gill St. Bernard’s before finishing up at St. Joe’s-Metuchen. He’s now a junior at Syracuse averaging 15.5 points, 3.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists.

    Hurley, of course, took his own winding path forward.

    Now their paths will cross again Thursday night when Battle and No. 15 Syracuse face Hurley and UConn in the 2K Empire Classic Benefitting Wounded Warrior Project at Madison Square Garden. Iowa and No. 13 Oregon face off in the second game of the doubleheader, with the winners to play in Friday’s championship game.

    Asked if he thought he might have coached Battle at St. Benedict’s, Hurley said, “Oh, absolutely. At the time I thought I would be trying to get him to go to St. Benedict’s but then I ended up going to Wagner and Rhode Island and obviously he was way above my recruiting depths. He was way above.”

    Hurley had gained respect for Battle’s game dating back to when the youngster was in fourth grade and would participate in Hurley’s workouts at Rebounds in Neptune, N.J.

    “I used to run these clinics in Neptune for Rob Kennedy [of the Hoop Group],” Hurley recalled. “They’re like sweatshops, four hours Saturday, four hours Sunday. Pretty intense, really intense, four hard hours.

    “I remember Gary bringing him and just being blown away at his young age just how good he was, how skilled he was,” Hurley added. “He was in like fourth grade, and he was getting through workouts that would test J.R. Smith and McDonald’s All-Americans. He was crushing it. I knew he was going to be special probably when I saw him the first time.”

    Battle had to remember back about a decade to recall his time training with Hurley.

    “Oh man, that was a while ago,” he said. “that was when I was probably 9 or 10 at that time. He’s always been a great guy. The whole [Hurley] family, they’re all great people. His whole basketball family. I mean, dad’s a Hall of Fame coach [Bob Hurley Sr]. Both sons played under him and they had great basketball careers, so he really knows the game and they have a pretty good UConn team this year.”

    He added: “That’s actually funny how that happened, that he was working me out when I was so young and now I’m playing against him.”

    Battle opted to return to Syracuse for his junior year after testing the NBA Draft waters last season. Now he’s taking 19 credits this semester and 18 next semester in order to graduate in three years.

    He and his Syracuse team have big expectations for this year, and it will start with facing UConn on Thursday in front of a slew of family and friends.

    Hurley, a fellow Jersey boy, will have his own rooting section. And he may flash back in his mind to those days a decade ago training the young Battle.

    “New Jersey’s one of the best basketball states in the country so I have tremendous pride in any players from the Garden State,” Hurley said, before offering his trademark deadpan. “Obviously, I hope he has a horrible game on Thursday.”

    ***For more on Hurley’s relationship with Wounded Warrior Kevin McMahon and his son, read this.

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    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.