Bobby Hurley forges his own identity

Originally Published: August 28, 2013
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com

He is a man of many titles: Bob Hurley's son, Mike Krzyzewski's former player, Dan Hurley's brother and former assistant coach.

Now, finally, it is Bobby Hurley's time to carve his own identity.

It sounds crazy to say. We're talking about Bobby Hurley, the gritty point guard who led Duke to two program-defining national championships; the third arm in the Blue Devil triumvirate, alongside Grant Hill and Christian Laettner.

[+] EnlargeBobby and Dan Hurley
AP Photo/Amy SancettaBobby and Dan Hurley faced off in an NCAA tourney game in 1992. Two decades later, they coached together at Wagner and URI.

But it's been 20 years since all of that excitement, an entire generation in the sport and two decades of hardship and rediscovery for Hurley, who willingly and necessarily retreated into the quieter recesses of the game that he loved.

When he is remembered, it is for his past.

Now Hurley, the new head coach at the University at Buffalo, is trying to define his future. Not as a legendary high school coach's son or a Duke player or Dan's assistant -- but as a head coach in his own right.

His own man, with his own team.

"I'm going to draw on all of my experiences,'' he said. "I think I've gained a ton from all of them and I will draw on all of those really good sources to become the coach I'm going to be.''

It's hard to imagine that Hurley isn't already that coach. The job, it would seem, is in his blood. His father and college coach are both Hall of Famers; his brother jumped directly from his own college career to the sidelines and Hurley dinner conversations tend to track toward designing a good defense, not pass the mashed potatoes.

As a player, Hurley was the personification of a gym rat, a scrapper and fighter whose work ethic and dedication turned him into a first-team All-American. He was exactly the sort of player you'd imagine becoming a head coach and with his pedigree, becoming one whenever he wanted.

But that was the catch. The want. Hurley lost it. If his passion for basketball didn't die altogether, it did at least wane, extinguished by misfortune and injuries in a pro career that didn't go the way he or anyone planned.

The Sacramento Kings selected Hurley seventh overall in the 1993 draft, but just months into his rookie season, he suffered life-threatening injuries in a car accident. He would play for four more seasons, but the lingering effects of the car accident, which now is as much a part of his own personal narrative as his Duke days, cut his career short much faster than he envisioned. He retired in 2000, two years after playing his final NBA game. He was only 29.

Disillusioned and disappointed, he intentionally tried ventures that were outside of the game -- breeding and owning racehorses for a time.

"I was burnt out,'' Hurley said. "I didn't leave the game on my own terms and there was a lot of frustration with my lack of success in the NBA.''

Not until 2010 did he finally put two feet back inside the lines, when his baby brother offered him a chance to be an assistant coach at Wagner. Together the Hurley boys engineered the best record in school history, a 25-6 finish.

After two seasons, Dan took the head-coaching job at Rhode Island, and after declining to replace his brother at Wagner, Bobby went along to URI, too.

"I always felt like for all of us, all roads eventually lead back to hoops,'' Dan Hurley said. "It's who we are. I didn't know all that he was doing outside of basketball, but I thought when he was ready he'd come back. It wasn't hard to talk him into joining me at all.''

[+] EnlargeBobby Hurley
AP Photo/Michael ConroyAt 42, Hurley will be making his head-coaching debut this fall.

And just like that, the want was back.

"It revitalized me,'' he said. "I always followed the game. I was always involved, but I needed a chance to refresh myself and find my love for it again.''

Buffalo athletic director Danny White, whose father Kevin is the AD at Duke, hired Hurley in April, the latest in a series of coaching changes White has made since taking over in 2012.

The Bulls were mildly successful under former coach Reggie Witherspoon, but while many of their Mid-American Conference peers have forged national identities with successful March runs, UB has still never been to the NCAA tournament.

Hurley has four starters back, including leading scorer Javon McCrea, but while most college coaches by this time of year are anxious to get the season started, Hurley is in no hurry. He's still trying to instill his own style and game plan with his team, one that will be big on ball pressure and tempo.

"I actually don't want to start yet,'' he said with a laugh. "I need every bit of time I can get with these guys so they completely understand what I expect out of them.''

What he expects out of them, of course, is exactly what he gave Krzyzewski -- commitment, hard work, endless energy and tenacity. Anyone who knew Hurley as a player would know that.

Except that's the trouble. To his players, Hurley is just a gray-haired guy who used to play for Duke when short shorts were in style.

"When I was at Wagner I started looking at the birthdates of the guys I was recruiting and I realized they weren't even born when I was playing college basketball,'' Hurley said. "But the Internet helps a lot. Google, YouTube, I direct a lot of guys there if they want to learn more about me.''

For now at least.

If things work out the way Hurley plans, they won't need to figure out who Hurley was -- won't define him by who his father is or his college coach or his brother.

They'll know him, Bobby Hurley, the head coach.

Editor's Note: To see where Hurley ranks in Myron Medcalf's top 10 coaches primed to succeed in their first season, click here.

Dana O'Neil | email

College Basketball

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