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8 things to know about new UB head coach Bobby Hurley

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

The University at Buffalo athletic director Danny White announced this afternoon that former Rhode Island assistant Bobby Hurley would be the new head coach for the UB Bulls men’s basketball program, replacing the fired Reggie Witherspoon.

In a 5 p.m. press conference at Alumni Arena, White introduced Hurley, the legendary Duke University college basketball player who still holds the NCAA record in career assists, to a collection of media, players and fans. The former Blue Devil point guard—who played four years under Mike Krzyzewski—will be the 12th head basketball coach in UB history.

Five days ago, Hurley was asked by ESPN’s Lynn Hoppes about his coaching future considering he’d served as an assistant under his brother for the previous three years. Here was his response:

“Dan [Hurley] gave me a great opportunity at Wagner, and it’s been a special three years working with him. We have the same beliefs. I have learned a lot about being a head coach and running a program. I’m excited about what we’re building at Rhode Island. Eventually, when the time is right, the opportunity will come along.”

That opportunity is now.

Here are 10 things we learned from the press conference and through research on Hurley’s career:

1) He’s a first-time head coach: This is undoubtedly the most worrisome aspect of the Hurley hire—the 41-year-old has no collegiate head coaching experience whatsoever. There’s obviously greater responsibility and accountability for a head coach as opposed to an assistant—the spotlight is brighter and there’s no hiding from failure. White, whose father is coincidentally the current athletic director at Duke, is taking a serious gamble by plucking an inexperienced coach with a big name.

Even without personal experience as a head coach, Hurley comes from a family of coaches. His father, Bobby Sr., orchestrates the St. Anthony’s High School program in New Jersey, which has won over 1,000 games and 26 state championships in his 39 years on the bench.

The new UB coach’s brother, Danny, has worked intimately with Bobby Jr., who was able to absorb that challenges that Danny faced as the figure-head of the Wagner and Rhode Island programs. You can’t replace experience, but it’s easier to mask this flaw when you’re surrounded by so many coaching brains.

“Working with my brother was a great entry point for me into the college game,” Hurley explained. “We had little resources to work with at Wagner, then we got a taste of building an Atlantic 10 program this year.”

2) You don’t outwork Bobby Hurley: As a sports-infatuated 7-year-old, the second-grade version of myself marveled at how fluidly Hurley played basketball—he saw open teammates before even they realized they were open—and didn’t seem like he ever tired. He grasped what it took to prepare for games at the top tier of collegiate basketball, and he still has that wisdom today.

“I’m a firm believer in practicing harder than what you’re going to face in a game,” Hurley said in the introductory press conference. “That’s the formula that we’ve used, and that’s why I was able to achieve what I did as a player—my work ethic.”

3) He loves guards: Naturally, since Hurley was a pass-first point guard himself, the new UB head coach gravitates toward coaching guards. While this maybe isn’t the best news for UB star forward Javon McCrea, Jarod Oldham and Jarryn Skeete must be licking their lips at this opportunity—the soon-to-be sophomore Skeete in particular.

Referring to the NCAA Tournament field, Hurley emphasized the necessity of above-average guard play: “You’re seeing the success of teams that have great guard play,” he said, “that can break down defenses and create.”

Hurley continued to emphasize guards in speaking about his preferred playing style—a guard-friendly, up-tempo offense that “gives players freedom within their ability levels.” The new UB head-man claims that his system creates an entertaining brand of basketball, one that will attract talent from a recruiting standpoint as well. Still, Hurley isn’t going to let his preferences solely dictate how his Bulls play.

“You base the system that you play on your personnel, on the team,” he explained. “I’ll be able to put together a style that fits next year’s team.”

4) He’ll acclimate quickly to Buffalo: The romanticized image of Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner raising their arms in celebration is a bit annoying if you’re an “anti-Dukie” like I am, but there’s more to Hurley than ACC glory in the balmy state of North Carolina.

Hurley was raised in Jersey City, NJ—far from a ritzy, relaxed area, a city he referred to as “blue-collar” just like Buffalo. He wasn’t coddled like we think all white Duke point guards are—I do, at least—he developed an inner-city toughness that formed him into a competitor.

In a USA Today column from 2011, Hurley discussed his occasionally tense relationship with teammate Christian Laettner, a Nichols School graduate who’s celebrated as one of the best to ever emerge from Western New York high school basketball.

“Christian was tough, but I played for my dad and he was tough, and I grew up playing on some tough playgrounds in Jersey,” Hurley said. “We had our disagreements from time to time. One time I missed him in the post when he was open, and we were arguing so much going up the court I almost got a 10-second violation.”

Hurley doesn’t back down from anyone—an admirable quality that to some degree represents Buffalo, I think—and even though he’s a scrawny 6’0, 165-pounds (maybe a bit more since his playing days have concluded), you’d think twice before messing with him.

5) He’s relate-able: The traumatic car accident that nearly ended Hurley’s life—but at bare minimum curtailed his potential and shortened his playing career—gave him valuable perspective on not only life, but basketball as well, and that wisdom shined through in his press conference. (You can read good literature about that accident here, here and especially here.)

“I understand what it’s like to be a 10th man on a team and what it’s like to be the star of a team,” Hurley said, referring to his glory days with St. Anthony’s and Duke before a somber ending to his NBA career.

6) He stresses defense: The quote that I most resonated with from Hurley’s press conference is this:

“We’re going to hold players accountable to play the [defensive] end of the floor and to play it with great effort,” he said. “We will inspire the community to come out and support us because of the energy that [the Bulls] will play at that end of the floor.”

The long line of scrappy Duke point guards certainly included Hurley—long before Jay Williams, Jon Scheyer, Greg Paulus, Chris Duhon, Steve Wojciechowski, Sean Dockery and Kyrie Irving. It’s a proud group notable for their floor-slapping, intensity and “floor burns” that come with tenacious defense in front of those obnoxious Cameron Crazies (Sorry, it’s hard to fight my anti-Duke bias.) Many of those players—aside from maybe Scheyer and Paulus—were defense-and-passing-first players who put the team ahead of themselves.

7) He knows this is a promising time for mid-majors: Hurley referenced Florida Gulf Coast University and La Salle in his press conference, discussing how much parity there is now in college basketball—and how that narrowing divide between high-major and mid-major programs made the Buffalo job even more inviting. We’ve witnessed the Mid-American Conference’s Ohio Bobcats reach the Sweet 16 in 2012, much like this year’s Cinderellas have knocked off powerhouses like Georgetown and Wisconsin in the first two rounds.

8) He knows that he needs to win: Former Buffalo head coach Reggie Witherspoon was one of the most beloved figures in Western New York basketball history. He was charismatic, personable and connected exceedingly well with his players. That said—Witherspoon never won a MAC title, failing to earn a berth in the NCAA Tournament.

“This [UB] program is going to be about winning championships—that’s the ultimate goal,” Hurley said today, “but it’s also about having people who represent the University at Buffalo with the utmost integrity.”

TAGGED: big 4 basketball, bobby hurley, danny white, ub basketball, ub bulls, university at buffalo

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