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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Hurley Brothers’ Bond Deepens as Rhode Island Prepares for NCAA Tournament
At about 11 a.m. on Sunday, an hour and a half before Rhode Island was set to meet VCU in the Atlantic 10 championship game at the PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Bobby Hurley called his little brother Dan to check in.
This wasn’t an unusual occurrence. The two brothers generally speak twice a day during the college basketball campaign. And so it only seemed natural to do it before the biggest game of the season.
“It’s a difficult job, with a lot of demands,” Dan Hurley said Monday on The 4 Quarters Podcast, less than 24 hours after his Rhode Island team secured the school’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 1999 by winning the A-10 championship. The Rams were seeded No. 11 in the Midwest Region and will face No. 6 Creighton, the Big East Tournament runner-up, in a first-round game in Sacramento, Calif., on Friday.
“The highs and lows you go through, to have a brother and a best friend that understands you and understands the job, you tend to lean on each other a lot,” Dan Hurley added. “We just have that type of close bond, whether it’s recruiting, coaching or just personal stuff.”
When Dan Hurley first made the jump from the high school coaching ranks at St. Benedict’s Prep to Wagner College on Staten Island in 2010, one of his first calls was to his older brother to see if he would join him on the staff. At that point, Bobby and his wife, Leslie, were racehorse owners and breeders at Devil Eleven Farm in Ocala, Fla. Bobby named the farm after the number he wore in the NBA, where he was the seventh pick in the 1993 NBA Draft after winning two NCAA championships at Duke.
After basically being absent from the basketball world since his NBA career ended in 1998 prematurely following a car accident during his rookie season in the NBA, Bobby agreed to join his younger brother at Wagner. When Dan moved on to Rhode Island in 2012, Bobby followed suit. A year later, Bobby left Rhode Island to become the head coach at Buffalo, which he took to the NCAA Tournament in 2015.
Now, with his younger brother on the brink of his first appearance in the Big Dance, Bobby, currently the head coach at Arizona State, wanted to touch base and offer encouragement.
“We talk virtually every day about our programs, things that are happening and what we’re going through, especially on a game day,” Bobby said. “We’re wired in a very similar way and how emotionally we prepare for the games. So there’s some anxiety that we’re working through and I’m just kind of going through the checklist of things that we go through at a game, shootaround, preparation, what’s Dan’s state of mind.
“He was very relaxed [on Sunday]. I think he had a lot confidence in his team and rightfully so, with how well they played in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.”
After Rhode Island beat VCU to culminate a strong showing at the A-10, Bobby felt not only proud of his brother but also a personal connection because he knew how tough an opponent VCU had been while he was on staff at Rhode Island.
“I’m so proud of Dan and what he’s accomplished there,” Bobby said. “He gave me a tremendous opportunity to begin coaching with him at Wagner and I had two great years there and then another great year at Rhode Island. To be able to spend that kind of time with him and learn from him, it helped me tremendously to get where I am as a coach. So I have tremendous gratitude towards everything he’s done for me.
“So to see him take a program like Rhode Island and having been there that first year, I knew where that program was, at such a low level. And to be able to take it to the point now where you beat a team like VCU. When we got to Rhode Island, VCU was untouchable in the Atlantic 10 and Dan’s built the program from the bottom up with kids like E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin and they were great during this tournament, so it’s a real thrill for me to see Dan have this type of success.”
Dan and Bobby are, of course, the sons of the legendary Bob Hurley, the Naismith Hall of Fame coach who has run St. Anthony’s High School in Jersey City for more than 40 years, winning 28 state championships and 13 New Jersey Tournament of Champions titles. Bob and his wife Chris were on hand in Pittsburgh on Sunday, with their grandchildren, to support Rhode Island.
After the Rams won, the cameras captured Bob and Dan embracing, with the father telling the son he was afraid he was going to jinx him by showing up.
“We’ve had a lot of great moments in basketball, with my dad, me and Bob and my father, we both played for my dad in high school,” Dan said. “We’ve all been so close, so it’s always to great to go to each other’s games and celebrate big wins. [Sunday] was a big win, a big championship win for us, and as a son you’re just proud to have your father there and your mother there and your sister, and then your own family.”
As has been widely documented, including in the six-part SHOWTIME Sports’ documentary now available, St. Anthony’s faces a financial crisis that could close the school after this season if enrollment numbers don’t go up. Bob Hurley says the school needs about $500,000 to remain open next season, when he hopes to coach at age 70.
Dan Hurley knows that with Rhode Island in the NCAA Tournament, there’s an opportunity to raise awareness about St. Anthony’s plight.
“The more the message can get out there, the better,” Dan said. “Having worked at a place like St. Benedict’s for nine years in Newark, a private Catholic school, I understand the power of private Catholic schools in inner-cities.
“And being able to keep St. Anthony’s is open is great for the kids of Jersey City. Hopefully we’re in the tournament long enough for it to become a big story and help. But I’m sure that that ending’s not written yet.”
For however long the NCAA ride lasts, Dan will have his older brother along with him.
Photo: Staten Island Advance/Jan Somma-HammelFollow Adam Zagoria on TwitterAnd like ZAGS on Facebook
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.