Every so often during Bobby Hurley’s 23-minute introductory news conference at the University at Buffalo on Tuesday, the ring on his right hand would glimmer in the Alumni Arena lights.
“It’s my national championship ring from Duke,” he said, showing it off 21 years after earning it. “It’s from the second title. Back-to-back.”
Hurley said all the right things, thanked the right people and even gave a nod to Reggie Witherspoon, a rare move during a customary media meet-and-greet, defying what seems almost a taboo by crediting the previous coach. There has always been something special about Hurley. And while one can argue whether he’s qualified to run UB’s basketball program, there’s little disputing that he’s a winner.
And UB, which never got over the hump and into the NCAA Tournament under Witherspoon, has never made a more celebrated hire than Robert Matthew Hurley.
“The University at Buffalo has a tremendous amount of potential and has a chance to take off,” said Hurley, who was named the program’s 12th head coach Tuesday. “We need someone to take it to another level and I’ll do that with the guys on a daily basis.”
He was a McDonald’s All-American while playing for his father, Bob Hurley Sr., at St. Anthony’s High School in Jersey City, N.J. He led the team to four consecutive Parochial B state championships. Hurley was a four-year starter at Duke for Mike Krzyzewski, playing in the national championship game three times and winning twice while earning Final Four Most Outstanding Player honors in 1992. He remains the NCAA’s career assists leader.
“I am incredibly happy for Bobby and for the Buffalo basketball program,” Krzyzewski said in a statement released by Duke. “What a great marriage it will be for Bobby to work with Danny White. The two will form an incredible team that will take Buffalo basketball to another level of success. Bobby Hurley is as good of a competitor and the equal of any guard to play in the history of college basketball.”
Said Duke All-American Christian Laettner, the Angola native and a former teammate of Hurley’s at Duke: “I couldn’t be happier for Bobby. It’s my hometown, so I’m excited for the city of Buffalo and UB. You are getting a ‘Class A’ person and character and a ‘Class A’ in terms of basketball knowledge. I don’t want to put pressure on him, but I’m expecting the basketball program to improve because Bobby is a great coach.”
The search was kept under wraps and when Hurley walked into the UB locker room to meet the players, there were more than a few surprised looks that the Bulls’ next coach is one of the greatest players in college basketball history.
“He’s going to get to know us and we’re going to get to know him as time goes on,” said UB sophomore Will Regan, the Nichols School product. “He was just trying to let us know how he felt about everything and his opinion on everything. From what I can tell, it’s going to be good. He told us right away that he believes in us.”
Hurley appeared destined for NBA success. Witherspoon has video of Hurley blowing by John Stockton when the 1992 Dream Team prepared for the Olympics against a group of college stars. But his pro career was derailed by a car accident that nearly killed him during his rookie year with Sacramento in 1993. He was never the same player, but he persevered through 1998 before going into business owning thoroughbred race horses.
“When I played the game, because I maximized my ability and used my basketball IQ and all the things that point guards do to be a success, I always thought that would translate well into coaching,” he said. “Coaching is more than just playing the game and understanding the game. It’s about motivating, it’s keeping things fresh, ideas fresh, drills fresh, ways the guys are going to enjoy playing for me.”
Morgan State coach Todd Bozeman, who along with Jason Kidd led California to an upset over Duke in 1993 that ended Hurley’s collegiate career, expects Hurley to be successful.
“He’s got lineage,” Bozeman said. “His dad has been a head coach, he was a high school All-American, a college All-American, played for Krzyzewski in that system. Bobby has a great basketball mind. He always jokes with me that I’m the guy that ended his career but I tell him I didn’t do it, [Kidd] did it. I think he’ll do well.”
Still, UB is gambling on a coach who has been in the business just three seasons. He was an assistant coach under his brother, Danny, at Wagner for two seasons and this past season at Rhode Island. Other than a stint as a scout with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2003, Hurley’s coaching resume is flimsy.
Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg, who didn’t have any coaching experience prior to taking the job at his alma mater, is an example for Hurley to follow.
“He’s played a lot of basketball and growing up in a house where you’re a coach’s son, it’s almost natural,” Bozeman said. “How long was Andy Enfield on the bench? How long was Danny Manning?” he said, referring to the coaches at Florida Gulf Coast and Tulsa.
“They’ve made the transition. I’m not saying everybody can do it but clearly they did it. These are guys with high basketball IQs and that definitely helps.”
UB Athletic Director White said he was convinced about Hurley during the interview process, which included a phone conversation last Tuesday, and an interview Sunday. He offered him the job Monday.
“We looked at his whole life experience and certainly having experience as an assistant coach is important but if you take his knowledge of basketball, even after his NBA career, it would be pretty competitive with a lot of coaches,” White said. “Anybody who plays in the NBA for a significant period of time, particularly at the point guard position, has to know basketball.”
And Hurley has the ring to prove it.
Hurley highlights / Point guard led Duke
Name: Robert Matthew ‘Bobby’ Hurley. Age: 41.
Accomplishments: Led Duke to three Final Fours and two titles and overall record of 119-26; recorded most assists (1,076) in Division I history; averaged 12.4 points, 7.7 assists and 2.2 rebounds in 140 collegiate games; set Duke record for assists in one game (16); picked seventh in 1993 NBA draft by Sacramento and played six seasons for the Kings and the Vancouver Grizzlies.
Honors: Third team All-America in 1992 and first team in ’93; Final Four Most Outstanding Player (’92); selected to the ACC’s 50th anniversary team in 2002 as one of its top 50 players and one of the top 35 players on the 35th anniversary of the McDonald’s High School All-American Game in 2012; voted into Duke’s Athletics Hall of Fame in 2011.
Coaching experience: Wagner College, assistant coach, 2009-2011; Rhode Island, associate head coach, 2011-12.