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Hurley brothers building Wagner College from the bottom

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Hurley brothers building Wagner College from the bottom

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- With its lush grass, circular driveway and brick buildings, the main campus of Wagner College presented a tidy, idyllic picture on a sun-dappled afternoon earlier this month. The small school (undergraduate enrollment: 2,281) is known for its theater program, and the weather was so nice that you half-expected the kids from Fame to bust through the doors and break out into a dance number on the manicured lawn.

Inside the Spiro Sports Center, however, the mood was blustery and cold. Danny Hurley, the gray-haired, 37-year-old fireball who took over the Seahawks basketball program last April, was growing increasingly irritated as he conducted a skills workout with three of his post men. The only thing getting pummeled more than the players was the gum in Hurley's mouth. "C'mon, elevate! Get the ball back!," he barked at Naofall Folahan, a 6-foot-11 freshman center during a rebounding drill. "If you fade away one more time, I'm gonna run you the rest of the day," he said a few minutes later to Ryan Schrotenboer, a 6-9 sophomore. Danny's disgust boiled over when 6-8 senior center Clay Harris had to stop practicing because he couldn't catch his breath. When Harris returned to the floor, Hurley pounded his gum and refused to let up. "Push yourself. Run! Baseline!" he shouted. "You're having a meltdown, Clay! A freaking meltdown!"

When a high school coach moves to a Division I college, he usually encounters a major jump in talent. Over the last nine years, however, Hurley built a national powerhouse at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, N.J., where he coached dozens of high-major prospects, including four McDonald's All-Americans. Within his first week on the job at Wagner, Danny realized that some of his teams at St. Benedict's would likely beat his current squad, which is coming off a 5-26 season that ended with the firing of head coach Mike Deane. "At St. Benedict's, we would do this for two-and-a-half hours, and then half the guys would stay after and shoot for 30 minutes," Hurley said during a break midway through. "These guys can't even make it through an hour."

As Hurley's voice filled the gym, his older brother, Bobby, who is working as an assistant coach, quietly offered the players instructions. While Danny was quite obviously the leading man, Bobby was but a supporting actor -- feeding the post, setting up cones, popping guys with a pad as they took layups. This represented a new fraternal order. For most of their lives, Danny, who is 18 months Bobby's junior, was the one toiling quietly under Bobby's shadow. Now, as the boys' father and legendary coach at Jersey City's St. Anthony's High School, Bob Hurley Sr., puts it, "Danny is getting some middle-child revenge."

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Danny Hurley (left) on hiring his famous brother Bobby: "Not a lot of staffs have someone who was arguably the best point guard ever to play college basketball."
Chuck Solomon/SI

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- With its lush grass, circular driveway and brick buildings, the main campus of Wagner College presented a tidy, idyllic picture on a sun-dappled afternoon earlier this month. The small school (undergraduate enrollment: 2,281) is known for its theater program, and the weather was so nice that you half-expected the kids from Fame to bust through the doors and break out into a dance number on the manicured lawn.

Inside the Spiro Sports Center, however, the mood was blustery and cold. Danny Hurley, the gray-haired, 37-year-old fireball who took over the Seahawks basketball program last April, was growing increasingly irritated as he conducted a skills workout with three of his post men. The only thing getting pummeled more than the players was the gum in Hurley's mouth. "C'mon, elevate! Get the ball back!," he barked at Naofall Folahan, a 6-foot-11 freshman center during a rebounding drill. "If you fade away one more time, I'm gonna run you the rest of the day," he said a few minutes later to Ryan Schrotenboer, a 6-9 sophomore. Danny's disgust boiled over when 6-8 senior center Clay Harris had to stop practicing because he couldn't catch his breath. When Harris returned to the floor, Hurley pounded his gum and refused to let up. "Push yourself. Run! Baseline!" he shouted. "You're having a meltdown, Clay! A freaking meltdown!"

When a high school coach moves to a Division I college, he usually encounters a major jump in talent. Over the last nine years, however, Hurley built a national powerhouse at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, N.J., where he coached dozens of high-major prospects, including four McDonald's All-Americans. Within his first week on the job at Wagner, Danny realized that some of his teams at St. Benedict's would likely beat his current squad, which is coming off a 5-26 season that ended with the firing of head coach Mike Deane. "At St. Benedict's, we would do this for two-and-a-half hours, and then half the guys would stay after and shoot for 30 minutes," Hurley said during a break midway through. "These guys can't even make it through an hour."

As Hurley's voice filled the gym, his older brother, Bobby, who is working as an assistant coach, quietly offered the players instructions. While Danny was quite obviously the leading man, Bobby was but a supporting actor -- feeding the post, setting up cones, popping guys with a pad as they took layups. This represented a new fraternal order. For most of their lives, Danny, who is 18 months Bobby's junior, was the one toiling quietly under Bobby's shadow. Now, as the boys' father and legendary coach at Jersey City's St. Anthony's High School, Bob Hurley Sr., puts it, "Danny is getting some middle-child revenge."

GALLERY: Hurley brothers on the job at Wagner College

The Hurley brothers, who also have a younger sister named Melissa, betray no awkwardness over the role reversal. Both are embarking upon what they hope will be long, successful careers as college coaches. For them to realize that dream, their joint venture at Wagner needs to go well. "Danny and I are so close. We're really best friends," Bobby said. "I don't feel like I have to hold back in front of him. If he crushes me on an idea, that's OK, too. I think he wants that kind of input, but at the same time there's no question in my mind who's the man here. It's Danny, and I'm completely happy with that."

Danny likewise believes hiring his brother was a no-brainer. "Not a lot of staffs have someone who was arguably the best point guard ever to play college basketball and a lottery pick," Danny said. "Plus, loyalty and trust is at a premium. If you can't trust your brother, who can you trust?"

It is testament to their brotherly love that they remain so close despite growing up in an intensely competitive environment. While their friends were off doing normal things in their free time, the Hurley boys spent much of their adolescence locked in battle on asphalt courts in Jersey City under the exacting eye of their father, who over the summer became just the third high school coach to be inducted into the Naismith Hall of Fame. The ethos extended to all areas of their lives. "There were countless arguments growing up over board games, Monopoly, whiffle ball -- everything under the sun," Bob Sr. said.

In basketball, Bobby had the upper hand. After steering St. Anthony's to a perfect record and the national championship in 1989, he went on to lead Duke to two NCAA titles, and he remains the NCAA's all-time career assists leader. Danny was himself a brilliant player at St. Anthony's, but once he began his college career at Seton Hall he withered under the specter of his brother's achievements. His confidence plunged amid the persistent chants from fans of "Bob-bee's better!" The nadir came during December of Danny's senior year, when he decided to take a leave of absence from the team. "I always felt terrible he had to endure that," Bobby said. "I knew it wasn't my fault, but I felt terrible he was treated so badly because of my success."

The day after Danny announced he was taking his leave, Bobby was nearly killed in an automobile accident while driving home from a game with the Sacramento Kings, who had selected him with the seventh pick in the 1993 NBA draft. Though Bobby made it back to play four more years in the NBA, his playing career was effectively curtailed. Danny, meanwhile, finished up well at Seton Hall, and after a four-year stint as an assistant at Rutgers he proceeded to build one of the nation's pre-eminent high school programs at St. Benedict's, where he amassed a 223-21 record and guided five teams to a top-five national ranking.

If Danny had any lingering scars, he would never have asked Bobby to join his staff at Wagner. "You get older, you get married, you have children. You look at things a little differently than when you were a teenager," he said. "For me, the combination of leaving the team and Bobby's accident really put everything into perspective. That way of thinking became senseless."

Danny nearly made the leap to college coaching two years ago, when he briefly accepted the job at Marist before deciding to back out because its campus in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., is too far from his home in Freehold, N.J. (Danny's wife grew up in Freehold and she does not want to move.) If Danny had taken that job, Bobby wouldn't have been able to go with him because he was too busy running his thoroughbred racing business in Florida. At its apex, Bobby's Devil Eleven Farm owned nearly 70 horses and placed an entrant in the 2001 Kentucky Derby, but the business fell on hard times in recent years and was foreclosed upon last April. (Hurley has since reached a settlement with his lenders that will allow them to recoup some of their losses by auctioning off the farm in October.) Once Bobby was out of the horse business, he decided to pursue coaching. A golden opportunity arose last April when Danny got the call from Wagner, which is just a 40-minute drive over the Verrazano Bridge from Freehold.

Life has been hurly-burly ever since. A few days after passing the NCAA's online certification test in April, the brothers found themselves driving around Brooklyn in search of workouts where they could evaluate high school prospects. "We looked like the keystone cops," Danny said. "After that, we got our stuff together and we killed it."

Indeed, Danny added three promising freshmen in the spring, including Folahan, a center from West Africa with much raw potential, and Latif Rivers, a 6-1 guard from Elizabeth, N.J., who has a great chance to start in the backcourt this fall. Meanwhile, during Bobby's first month on the job, he burned through the maximum 1,200 minutes on his cellular plan. "I think the most surprising thing about the job has been how much time I've spent on the phone," Bobby said. "I've never been that great about calling people."

The confusion of April paled in comparison to the exhausting marathon of July, when the brothers spent more than three weeks crisscrossing the country to watch high school camps and tournaments. "We're not like Duke where we're just out watching a few guys. We had to watch everybody," Bobby said. By Danny's count, the coaching staff evaluated 140 prospects during the month. At one point, they spent three days in Las Vegas and then took a red-eye to Orlando, Fla., for the AAU nationals, where play began at 8 a.m. Halfway through the day in Orlando, Bobby realized he thought he was still in Vegas.

It remains to be seen whether that work has paid off. So far Wagner has received one oral commitment in the Class of 2011 from Marcus Burton, a 6-foot guard from Charlotte, N.C. Bobby's reputation in the state helped to land Burton's commitment, but Hurley's pedigree as a former Final Four Most Outstanding Player is not as helpful as one might think. "Most of the kids I'm calling don't know who I am," Bobby said. "They're more likely to know about the guys that Danny coached at St. Benedict's."

Danny filled out his staff with two other familiar faces -- Bashir Mason, who played for Danny at St. Benedict's and later at Drexel before spending two years as an assistant at Marist, and Luke Murray, who worked for a year on Sean Miller's staff at Arizona. (Luke is also the son of the actor Bill Murray, which means the Hurleys only have the second-most famous dad on the staff.)

Bobby may have the closest personal relationship with the boss, but he is also the least-experienced coach on the payroll. "Bobby will be a big help to Danny in recruiting and working with the guards, and I expect he'll be a buffer between the players and the head coach," Bob Sr. said. "This is not just something Bobby is doing now. I see him being a college coach, and this is an opportunity to learn the business and be part of rebuilding a program."

Nor will the brothers be shy about asking for assistance from the old man. During the summer, they sent a few of their Wagner players to Bob Sr.'s summer camp in Stroudsburg, Pa., to give them a taste of the Hurley Method. "Ninety-five percent of what we know, we learned from our dad," Danny said. "We'd be crazy not to use him as a resource."

There is one area, however, in which dad will not be much help -- namely, teaching his sons how to deal with losing. This is, after all, a man who has won 23 state championships and over 900 games. For all of Danny's promise, he is probably on the verge of setting a new family record for worst single-season win percentage. "I know my dad wouldn't adjust very well. He can't relate to that," he said. While Bobby says it will be part of his job to counsel his little brother to stay patient, that is one idea his boss is likely to crush. "I know the losing is inevitable, but I don't ever want to get used to it," Danny said. "I don't think Hurleys are built that way."

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/seth_davis/09/17/hurleys.w...


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