I didn’t know if I’d ever see someone like Bobby Hurley in the NCAA Tournament again. This March, he’s back.
By Andrew Pridgen
He was the Kid ‘n Play Generation’s answer to Maravich—punky and gaunt and off-putting—awkward to the point of believability. When Bobby Hurley initiated his dribble drive it’s like the rest of the court became one of those wood labyrinth games where you try to work the four knobs to navigate the impossible.
Hurley, the evasive marble.
It wasn’t just about handles for him, or the first step, or the no-look or the effortless floaters down low to the capable-in-the-clutch hands of Christian Laettner or Grant Hill or Thomas Hill; Hurley was like a chef, my JV basketball coach told me. He took ordinary ingredients and whipped up flavors nobody had ever tasted.
After willing Duke to back-to-back NCAA Tournament championships in the early ‘90s, a feat that hadn’t happened since the Wizard of Westwood piloted his future NBA hall-of-famers Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton, Hurley seemed destined for some kind of revelatory NBA career. But the number-seven overall pick of the 1993 draft lasted only five seasons—four more than Hurley was told he would after he nearly bled out during a car crash his rookie year.
Hurley was driving his 4Runner home from a home game in Sacramento when he was broadsided by a house painter driving a station wagon. The point guard, who wasn’t wearing his seatbelt, was ejected from the vehicle and landed in a nearby drainage ditch. He suffered a severed trachea, a pair of collapsed lungs, five broken ribs, compression fractures in his back and a fractured left shoulder. He tore his right ACL, fractured his right fibula and sprained his wrist.
His surgeon said only one of 100 would survive the accident and none would play a professional sport again. Hurley did and Hurley would.
But it wasn’t a comeback story: Hurley’s career after the accident would be a series of footnotes and finding himself on the side of the bench opposite the scorer’s table. How does one recover from being a game-changer when he’s 19 to out of the game 25? The mind was there but the body, which should have been in its prime, wasn’t. The chef no longer had his knives nor could command the ingredients to win.
And that’s where Bobby Hurley’s story should end. A Jeopardy answer. A highlight cutaway during a Sweet 16 Duke/UNC matchup. A mention on ESPN radio when the son turns to the father on the morning drop-off and asks, who?
But those who remember know Bobby was a prodigy of a basketball family and at the behest of father, Bob. Bob was not simply a high school basketball coach. Bob was the high school basketball coach. Bob led his teams, including his sons Bobby and Dan, at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, New Jersey to 27 state championships and more than 1,000 wins in 39 seasons.
At least one son paid attention.
After the NBA, Bobby disappeared from the hard court for almost 20 years. In that time he did some scouting for the 76ers and dabbled in horse racing which led to foreclosure.
It was younger brother Dan—unable to fully ripen in the shadow of Bobby—who blossomed as he took over the family business.
After a notable college career at Seton Hall, Dan moved back to the bench as an assistant coach at Rutgers for four years. And then did the unexpected—he moved down. As head coach of Saint Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey for nine years, Dan lost only 21 games. Like his father, he’d built an exceptional program that could sustain his family for decades to come. Thoughts of jumping back to the next level diminished with each passing season.
In the spring of 2010, Dan got an unexpected offer from Wagner College, a 2,100-student liberal arts school on Staten Island in need of a head coach. Dan was getting his shot to build a college program and he took a risk—not by uprooting his family—but by bringing his brother back to the game.
Bobby Hurley was “looking for a life preserver,” Bob Sr. said at the time. Danny was there to offer an assist.
And why not? He grew up watching the best.
The last time we saw the brothers together on the court was almost two decades prior, in 1992. Dan would have a chance at facing down Bobby in the East Regional of the Tournament, only to be outworked and outlasted by the older brother and the eventual confetti shower-destined Blue Devils.
At Wagner, they synched up right away and after two years turning around the Seahawks, brother-coaches Dan and Bobby moved on to the University of Rhode Island. In March of 2013, Bobby was named head coach of the University at Buffalo.
This week the Buffalo Bulls—thanks to a Mid-American Conference Tournament championship victory Saturday ousting top-seeded Central Michigan 89-84—will return a Hurley to the NCAA Tournament.
This time, it’s in loafers.
A quarter century later, Bobby Hurley is back in March. The prodigy. The victor. The battered. The broken. The broke. The prodigal son. The resolute. The chef who could make any flavor happen on the court manning the kitchen once more, knives flaring, six burners going, music blaring.