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May 25, 2010

Hurley ready to give college coaching a shot

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Don't be fooled by Dan Hurley's lack of college basketball head-coaching experience.

The product of one of amateur basketball's most famous families will be making his college head-coaching debut when Wagner opens its 2010-11 season, but he already has tutored scores of Division I-caliber athletes while running one of the nation's top high school programs.

In fact, Hurley coached more McDonald's All-Americans (four) at St. Benedict's in Newark, N.J., than he can ever hope to bring to his new school.

"When you're at a place like St. Benedict, especially the last couple of years there, we were telling top-100 kids that they couldn't come," Hurley said. "Here, I'm on the other end of it.

"The recruiting's more intense, but in terms of running a program, it's very similar. ... We traveled a ton [at St. Benedict]. We practiced as hard as a college program."

Apparently, hard work runs in the family.

Hurley, 37, is the son of Bob Hurley, one of the most successful coaches in high school basketball history. Hurley has won 984 games, 24 state titles and three USA Today national championships in 38 years at St. Anthony in Jersey City, N.J.

Hurley's older brother, Bobby Hurley, remains the NCAA's career leader in assists nearly two decades after leading Duke to back-to-back national titles in 1991 and '92. Bobby's new job is working as an assistant on his brother's staff.

The Hurley brothers were attending basketball practices about as soon as they started walking. They were constant spectators at their father's games before they eventually played for their dad at St. Anthony.

"I don't know if they missed a game growing up," Bob Hurley said of his sons. "I would say Danny was probably 4 or even 3 when he was going to games regularly. He'd miss very few games. The only times he and Bobby missed games growing up were when they had games themselves."

And there never was much doubt that Danny eventually would take up his father's line of work.

"For me, it was the family business," Hurley said. "Some families are lawyers. Some are doctors. Some are educators or bankers.

"Our family business is basketball."

Only one question remained: Would Hurley follow his dad's lead by always coaching high school teams or would he eventually give college a chance?

Hurley worked as an assistant at Rutgers for four seasons before heading to St. Benedict's in 2001. He actually accepted a college head-coaching job, at Marist, two years ago, only to change his mind and decide to stay at St. Benedict's. He also previously had turned down an opportunity to join Jamie Dixon's staff at Pittsburgh.

When the Wagner job opened up, Hurley finally decided to make the move.

Wagner's Staten Island campus was close enough to his Freehold, N.J., home that he could switch jobs without uprooting his family. Marist is located in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., which was too far away to commute.

The proximity of his new school allows Hurley to make the most of his connections in the New York metropolitan area. Hurley and his father have developed relationships with countless coaches in the talent-rich region.

"I do have college experience, but at heart, I'm a high school coach," Hurley said. "I have the same values as those guys. I've walked the same path. I just got presented with a wonderful opportunity to move on and become a head coach at the college level.

"I think a lot of the [high school] guys know what I'm about. They kind of know what I stand for and what my family stands for. There's a little bit of a trust factor because I'm not [just] a recruiter, I'm not a used-car salesman. I'm going to do what I say I'm going to do in terms of the development of kids."

Wagner fired Mike Deane after the Seahawks went 5-26 last season, tying a school record for losses, but Hurley's background suggests he can get the Seahawks winning again. Wagner, a member of the Northeast Conference, has made one NCAA appearance in its history, in 2003 under Dereck Whittenburg.

Wagner's Danny Hurley will be making his college head-coaching debut this season, but he has a long history of success at the high school level. Here's a look at his year-by-year record at perennial powerhouse St. Benedict's in Newark, N.J. He coached there for nine seasons, and a third of his losses came in his first season.
Hurley was an astounding 223-21 in nine seasons at St. Benedict's. Four of his teams finished in the consensus top-five in the national rankings, including the 2009-10 squad that placed fourth in the final Rivals100.

The four McDonald's All-Americans he coached at St. Benedict's are Denver Nuggets forward J.R. Smith, former Louisville center Samardo Samuels, Villanova guard Corey Stokes and former Duke forward Lance Thomas.

Hurley's teams at St. Benedict's won while relying almost exclusively on man-to-man defense. Hurley concedes he will need to mix things up more at the college level, but he again plans to focus on the strategies that proved so successful in high school.

"We're going to play with a certain intensity level that will be our calling card," Hurley said. "We want to play up-tempo and we really want to guard people. From a college standpoint, I look at the way Michigan State plays, and I look at Tom Izzo as a guy I've followed as a high school coach. I admire his style and the way they play, how physical they are. That's a good model."

The biggest adjustment Hurley might face is getting accustomed to losing more than a few times a year. He didn't have to worry about that happening at St. Benedict's.

"As a high school coach at a place like St. Benedict's or Oak Hill [in Mouth of Wilson, Va.] or St. Pat's [in Elizabeth, N.J.], if you lose two or three or four games in a season, it's an utter disappointment," Hurley said. "It's almost like the feel of coaching [football] in the BCS, where a loss could ruin your season.

"You've got to kind of adjust as a college coach. Unfortunately, losses are part of the deal. I'm not sure how I'm going to handle that yet."

It wouldn't be the first time Hurley has dealt with adversity.

Hurley is a former Seton Hall co-captain who helped the Pirates win two Big East regular-season titles (1992 and 1993) and one Big East tournament (1993). He ranks among the top 10 players in school history in career assists (437) and steals (171).

Yet he often was booed, at least in part because he wasn't as successful as his brother, one of the best point guards in college basketball history. The stress caused him to leave Seton Hall's team just two games into the 1992-93 season before he returned the next season.

"I wished he didn't have to go through that," Bobby Hurley said. "I felt partially responsible even though it's not something I had control over. The comparisons were unfair to him. Basketball at that point became way too pressurized.

"I think by him taking a step back, he was able to get himself to a point where he really enjoyed playing again, and he finished his career very well."

Instead of pulling the Hurley brothers apart, the adversity brought them together. Bobby Hurley was going through his own problems at the time. After the Sacramento Kings selected him with the seventh pick in the 1993 NBA draft, Hurley was involved in a life-threatening car accident his rookie season that would short-circuit his pro career.

"That's a time when we really connected," said Bobby Hurley, who ended up playing five seasons in the NBA. "We spent a lot of time together and sort of worked through our own sets of issues. That was kind of a key time."

Now the Hurley brothers are together again on a Wagner staff that features more star power than you'll find at almost any low-major program. Hurley's other assistants are former Arizona assistant Luke Murray and Bashir Mason, a four-year starting point guard at Drexel. Murray is the son of movie star Bill Murray.

"My biggest concern with the three of them is how long we'll be able to hold on to them," Danny Hurley said.

The family reunion at Wagner continues a remarkable year for the Hurleys. On the same day that Dan Hurley formally accepted the Wagner job, his father learned that he was just the third high school coach ever selected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. The elder Hurley also was the subject of a documentary, "The Street Stops Here," that aired on PBS and was released on DVD this year.

"We had some run," Bob Hurley acknowledged. "We probably should have gone to Atlantic City and put some money on the tables there because we were hot."

Wagner officials are hoping that hot streak lasts well into the upcoming season and beyond.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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