On Wednesday, the URI community rolled out the red carpet – or maybe it was Keaney blue – as a symbolic token to welcome new head coach Dan Hurley and his family. To enlighten the masses regarding the kind of coach and person that Rhode Island is getting in Hurley, we engaged in a background check that conjured all sorts of positive vibrations.
In essence, this is a “getting-to-know-you-better” exercise, an opportunity to view through the lens of those who know and understand Hurley the best. In P.J. Carlesimo, you have a veteran basketball mind that recruited and coached Hurley at Seton Hall. In Adrian Wojnarowski, you have the author of “The Miracle of St. Anthony,” the acclaimed hoops book that digs deep and reveals more insight into Hurley’s roots than any introductory press conference ever could. They are two prominent and well-known individuals who have had close, personal dealings with Hurley, the kind that can help Rhody followers to better understand the new sheriff in town.
Presently the leading NBA columnist for Yahoo Sports, Wojnarowski made a compelling case to the soothing kinship Hurley figures to strike with Billy Baron, the URI sophomore guard. In many ways, Hurley and Baron are kindred spirits, their background stories striking. Both have spent healthy portions of their existences living under similar larger-than-life shadows, being part of a clan where the father is a head coach and the older brother achieved fame that raised the bar for those next in line, fairly or unfairly.
Eventually, Dan Hurley was able to carve out his own niche as a successful coach at Wagner, placing himself on the fast track to become the next Rams coach, and fortifying his own identity; that of someone besides the son of Bob Hurley Sr., the main character in Wojnarowski’s 416-page opus, and the kid brother of Bobby Jr., the starting point guard on back-to-back national title winners at Duke, not to mention an NBA lottery pick.
If college athletics is geared toward mentoring and guiding young people, then Dan Hurley might be just what Billy Baron needs at this particular time in his life, to help the youngster adapt in ways that set him apart from his blessing and curse of being known as the son of Jim Baron and the younger sibling of Jimmy Baron.
“I’m sure the first thing Danny will do is sit down with Billy and let him know that he lived his life in a lot of ways and create a comfort level,” was the picture Wojnarowski painted. “I think he’s very focused on all the new players [Hurley will inherit at URI], but especially with Billy, because Danny was in that situation. He has that background that will be beneficial for Billy.
“Look at Danny’s career at Seton Hall. He had a lot of ups and downs, hearing chants that ‘Bobby’s better.’ In [the Ocean State], Jimmy Baron was Bobby Hurley, a pro player,” Wojnarowski added. “That’s why I think [the marriage of Dan Hurley and Billy Baron] has a chance to be a great success story.”
Carlesimo also touched upon the pressures that Dan Hurley had to confront being part of a family steeped in basketball tradition and how everything worked out in the end.
“He’s established as one of the elite, young coaches in the country. That’s solely on him; Danny did that himself,” praised Carlesimo, currently an assistant coach with the NBA’s New Jersey Nets. “I’m not saying that being a Hurley is not an asset, but it was no guarantee that he was going to be successful. In the sense that sometimes is a plus [although] sometimes it’s more difficult because people won’t give you credit or say ‘Yes, but …’ Danny has gotten well beyond that, but it’s hard to have a better bloodline than he’s had.
“He’s learned a lot from his own experiences and has brought those experiences to the table in a very positive sense,” Carlesimo continued. “I think it’s an outstanding choice on URI’s part.”
FAIR OR NOT, coaches are always under the microscope in reference to how many games they win, as opposed to the number appearing in the loss column. To that end, Wojnarowski explained one of the central ingredients that made Hurley appealing to Rhode Island officials besides the 25 wins he achieved in 2011-12 at Wagner.
“He’s got a lot of empathy for college players and understands the emotional toll that kids go through sometimes,” Wojnarowski. “There’s a lot of Jim Baron in Danny in that guys are going to go to class, follow the rules, and be accountable. Jim won [at Rhode Island] and I think Danny is going to win there too.
“When Danny was an assistant at [New Jersey’s] St. Benedict’s, I think he felt like he could make a difference in kids’ lives,” Wojnarowski continued. “Every year, he had chances to leave and take assistant coaching jobs at Villanova and Pittsburgh. The year before he took the Wagner job, he turned down the head job at Marist College. In that regard, he’s very influenced by his dad.”
“I think Danny’s biggest strength among a whole bunch of strengths is that he can relate to the players,” was Carlesimo’s way of diving deeper. “His ability to get his point across and get guys to play hard to the point that they enjoy playing for him … there’s a lot of guys who know basketball and work hard, and Danny fits all those bills.”
Like Hurley, Carlesimo parlayed his coaching stint at Wagner to something bigger and eventually better (Carlesimo coached at the Staten Island-based school from 1976-82).
“He was able to have some impressive success with a challenging situation,” said Carlesimo, his résumé including NBA titles as an assistant with the San Antonio Spurs and a gold medal as part of the staff that oversaw the U.S. “Dream Tream” during the 1992 Summer Olympics. “We talked right after he took over at Wagner, knowing that he would do well and eventually move on.”
DAN HURLEY SAW the basketball factory his father built at St. Anthony, a spot that has churned out many a Division I prospect. That’s why the idea of putting down roots at Wagner appealed to him greatly. Then URI came along, and suddenly, some hard decisions had to be made.
Wojnarowski, who said he frequently touched base during the Rhode Island-Hurley courtship, mentioned an anecdote that appeared in the New York Times a few years back. The story goes that Hurley had a hard time telling the headmaster at St. Benedict’s, Fr. Edward Leahy, that he was leaving for Wagner in the spring of 2010.
“He would call Fr. Leahy, break down, and have to hang up the phone,” Wojnarowski said. “Finally, Fr. Leahy said, ‘You’re leaving, right?’ Danny couldn’t tell him, but that’s who he is.
“I know he’s not comfortable with the job jumping, which is why he labored over it, but in the end, he couldn’t pass up [the gig laid at his feet by URI],” says Wojnarowski.
Wojnarowski emphasized that Rhode Island can count on Hurley being at the school for the long haul.
“I know he’s not interested in moving his family around,” he said, uttering words that no doubt shed further light on the state university’s newest arrival.