"It's weird to be as good as he is and to never be satisfied," says Hill, Duke's 6'8" preseason All-America. "He's just very critical of himself."
Hurley admits that he tends to see the glass as half empty rather than half full. He recalls Duke's 1991 upset of UNLV as "the closest we've come to being perfect." All he did in that game was play all 40 minutes against an outlaw UNLV high-wire act that had won 45 straight games and seemed ready for NCAA immortality. He had seven assists and scored 12 points, including a three-pointer with two minutes to go that cut UNLV's lead to two and blazed the emotional trail for Duke's shocking 79-77 victory.
But he recalls even more vividly the beating he received at UNLV's hands the year before. Sick with the flu, frighteningly pale, weak and overwhelmed, he finished with two points, live turnovers and zero confidence. "I remember Coach K leaving me out on the floor for the final minutes." says Hurley. "It was just humiliating, like I was out there by myself. I felt like they could do no wrong and I couldn't do anything right. They ran a fast-break show on me. everybody dunking. I don't know if Coach K did it on purpose. I haven't asked him. But it had its effect—I haven't forgotten."
Ask Hurley if he remembers breaking Tommy Amaker's school assist record of 708 last season, and he replies. "Yeah, it was at North Carolina, but it was overshadowed by the fact that we lost. Plus I broke my foot." Hill started at point guard until Hurley returned from his injury, five games later, leading Hill to comment. "Man. I learned quickly how valuable Bobby is." So why is everything doom and gloom for such a needed performer? Why is water always draining from his half-empty cup, the deserved praise always ignored?
"I know I'm a good player," says Hurley, "but...." He tilts his head in that semireflective, semi-insouciant, all-Jersey way he has, and thinks. Analyzing himself and then reporting his findings to other people is not among his favorite activities. But he has had courtesy drilled into him by his no-nonsense parents. "I think I'm constantly looking for ways to improve." he continues, "to prevent myself from being complacent. At times I'm my own worst enemy, but because I'm a point guard, a lot of the team's success depends on how I play, so I have to keep pushing myself."
That fierce drive was woven into Hurley's fabric at an early age, the result of some combination of genetics, his parents' stern tutelage and the lessons of a competitive world. Eddie Rich, who has been an assistant coach for Bob at St. Anthony for the last seven years, has a photo of himself, Bobby and Bobby's younger brother. Danny, that was taken at a summer basketball camp when the boys were sixth-and fourth-grade campers, respectively. Rich is holding a ball, and peanut-sized Bobby is looking at him very intently, while Danny is casually smirking. "It's exactly the same in the picture as it is now." says Rich. "Bobby was intense and would get real upset it' he lost. Damn was laid-back—if he got in his 10 jump shots, he was O.K. I remember when Bobby's team lost the camp championship game, he had a bit of a temper tantrum."
Early on at Duke, Bobby reacted so melodramatically to referees' calls against him that it seemed he was in physical pain and might soon begin rending his clothes and snatching out tufts of his hair. It wasn't good theater, and it wasn't good leadership. During the 1990 Duke-Arkansas game. TV commentator Dick Vitale watched a surly Hurley tirade and then shouted to the viewing audience, "Hey. Bobby Hurley's gonna make my All-Bill Laimbeer team! A whiner, and a moaner, and a groaner. I mean, come on, Bobby!"
Krzyzewski sees Hurley as a work in progress, a young man maturing physically and emotionally, catching up, in a sense, with the skilled athlete who already can control much larger men on a court. Indeed, his whininess has all but vanished, due in part to a sort of shock therapy. Last year Duke assistant coach Pete Gaudet put together a 10-minute greatest-hits videotape of Hurley sulking and complaining in various games and showed it to him. "That helped." says Hurley. "But what helped more was Coach K making a tape of the good things I did and showing that to me. I'm down on myself enough as it is."
"Bobby's not that confident a person," says Krzyzewski. "He doesn't want the limelight because it takes him away from being normal. And he likes being normal, being Bobby. I've talked to him about that, about how he can't have both. "You took us to two national championships." I tell him. "You hit the three-pointer against Vegas—those are not normal things. You have to handle success. I want you to enjoy it." But he just gets so mad at himself. I'm Catholic, like he is, so looking at it from a certain standpoint, I see his actions as his way of doing penance for having sinned. Instant penance, contrition right on the spot."
Today's act is one of contrition, in a sense. Hurley, Hill and Krzyzewski have come to the University of North Carolina Memorial Hospital in Chapel Hill to visit 15-year-old Telvin (Shoestring) Canady, who is paralyzed from the shoulders down and hooked to a ventilator, the result of his being struck by a van while riding his bike. The visit has been made possible by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants requests of children with terminal or life-threatening illnesses.