Hurley brothers joining forces to build Wagner College program
Danny built a prep powerhouse, while Bobby is new to the coaching profession
After growing up in his famous brother's shadow, Danny's now the leading man
The brothers scoured the nation looking for talent to bring to Staten Island
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."
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."
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