If Christian Laettner is Duke's poster boy, Bobby Hurley is its poster child, a Jersey City, N.J., kid with sunken eyes, bad teeth and a CYO gymnasium pallor. His face had once been so Danny Aingean in its expressiveness that the Blue Devils' coaching staff tried to cure him of it by showing Hurley videotape of himself at his most petulant.
But Hurley needs some anger on his face to be effective, and that wasn't there during Duke's two games leading into the Final Four. Playing against Seton Hall and his brother Danny in the regional semifinals, Hurley's visage registered conflicting emotions. Against Kentucky it betrayed mild bewilderment at the Wildcats' helter-skelter style. Thus last week Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was determined to fit his junior point guard with his Final Four face, the one Coach K calls "that cocky-but-not-arrogant look, like he's chewing gum without the gum."
Hurley tried it on and looked terrific—both while piloting Duke to its second straight championship and while telling Laettner off at halftime of the title game. It was quite a role reversal. For three years Laettner had been Hurley's private scold, "coming up to me and yelling at me," as Hurley put it, "and telling me to do this and this and this." But last Saturday, when Laettner muddled through the Blue Devils' semifinal victory over Indiana, Hurley bailed out Laettner, Duke's senior star, with a career-high 26 points, including six fearless three-pointers. And it was Hurley who challenged Laettner in the locker room at halftime on Monday night after Laettner had turned the ball over seven times in the first 20 minutes.
"I didn't get up in Christian's face," Hurley said, with a strand of the victory net still hanging around his neck. "The things I said, I said to everybody. But they pertained to him. If he didn't come out and perform, we weren't going to win."
Hurley jump-started Laettner during the opening moments of the second half with an over-the-shoulder fast-break pass for a basket and with another find, at the top of the key, for a three-pointer. Krzyzewski pulled Hurley shortly after he picked up his fourth foul with nine minutes to play, but a minute and a half later he was back. From then on Duke scored on 12 of its last 13 possessions, including one in the final minute in which Hurley found Grant Hill with a behind-the-back, back-to-the-play, scoop pass in transition. Hurley finished the game with only nine points, but he had seven assists and the game safely under his baton. "Absolutely sensational," Krzyzewski said in assessing Hurley's performance.
Michigan freshman Jimmy King, who guarded Hurley most of the night, begged to differ. He pronounced Hurley's play "average."
What of Hurley's being named the Final Four's Most Outstanding Player?
"I wasn't on the committee," King said.
Ah, freshmen. When Hurley was himself a Final Four freshman, he sprinted to the bathroom during a timeout in the semifinal against Arkansas because of diarrhea and then watched as UNLV sprinted past him and his teammates in a 30-point title-game rout.
On the playground, the turf that the Michigan players claim as their own, they call it "face"—the ineffable commodity that provides the subtext of the game. Face is won and face is lost. Funny what Hurley noticed in the Wolverines during the second half: "They had blank expressions on their faces. When you see that, that's when you can tell you have a team." Last weekend, by contrast, Hurley won face with face, and he wore it well.