Heroic athletes/coaches

HEROIC COACHES: An Interview with the Legendary Bob Hurley of St. Anthony’s Prep

In his long-tenure at St. Anthony’s Prep in Jersey City, Bob Hurley won 28 state championships with the boys’ basketball team. He has sent literally hundreds of his players onto to Division 1 programs on full scholarships. A few years ago, Coach Hurley was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, which is extremely rare for a HS coach. His two sons, Bobby and Dan, are head coaches at Arizona State and the Univ of Rhode Island respectively.

In short, Bob Hurley’s remarkable achievements fill page after page. He is that unique as a coach. But more than that, Coach Hurley is widely recognized as being one of those rare people in athletics who stand for all the right values when it comes to teaching kids in sports.

As I’m sure many of you know, St. Anthony’s had to close its doors due to financial restraints last year. Bob had served as the head basketball coach there since the early 1970s, and he did everything he could to try and keep the doors open. But in the end, there just wasn’t enough money to keep the school going.

But that school closing hasn’t slowed Coach Hurley down. On my radio show this AM, he joined me from Omaha, Nebraska, where he had been invited to speak and to run a basketball clinic for hundreds of Sudanese basketball players. As Bob explained on the air, Omaha has become a thriving home to more than 20,000 Sudanese immigrants in recent years, and like the rest of the world, Sudanese athletes love playing basketball. “They already have had a number of kids go on to play Division I programs here,” explained Bob, “and from what I say out in Omaha, there are lots more on the way.”

He continued: “It was also heartening to see the transition for these kids and their families into the American culture. Many of their parents wore traditional Sudanese clothing, but their children were clearly dressed as American youngsters.” Indeed, as I pointed out, the is all about the American dream, where all of us at some point came from ancestors who migrated to the US (with the exception of Native Americans).

In any event, I was very eager to get the Coach’s take on what’s going on with the current headlines of college coaches taking bribes from sneaker companies in order to push players to certain colleges. Hurley made it clear that he expects more arrests are going to escalate in the months to come. And that college basketball programs which deal with the sneaker companies are working hard right now to see if they might be implicated in any way.

“The fact that it’s the FBI speaks to how serious and widespread this issue is,” said Coach Hurley, “the NCAA just doesn’t have the manpower or staff to follow through or to enforce the necessary discipline. But with the FBI fully engaged, and then perhaps the IRS, this is going to have a major impact on college recruiting as we know it.

Coach Hurley continued: “I think we’re going to see a coming together of the NBA, the NCAA, the sneaker companies, AAU and so on. They clearly need to correct this problem, and figure out how this should work better. It’s obvious that the “one-and-done” of college basketball is not working. Maybe the time has come to emulate what they do in Europe, where a kid in his mid-teens can sign with a pro team and play on their club team for a few years before a decision is made as to whether he’s going to be good enough to sign a much bigger contract and play for the pro team.”

That’s an interesting perspective, because it would help eliminate any financial inducements by sneaker companies because the kids would already be under contract to a pro team. And if a kid gets to be 17 or 18, and it doesn’t appear that he’s going to be a top pro player, then maybe he goes to college and plays for four years there.



I asked Coach Hurley about how this scandal would affect his boys. He said that it’s more of an issue for Bobby, who is the head coach at Arizona State in the Pac-12. “That’s because more and more of the top players who are being recruited in the Pac-12 and other major conferences are truly anticipating to be one and done players. Kids like Fultz and Ball who last year were selected first and second overall in the NBA. So Bobby is well aware of the pressures that college coaches feel about gaining any advantage they can to sway a kid to attend their school for a year before turning pro.

“But at other D-I programs, like the Univ. of Rhode Island where Danny coaches, it’s different. Most of those players do not expect to be one-and-done kids, so there’s less money floating around. Those kids would of course love to go pro, but already know the odds of that happening are less.”

What’s the bottom line? Well, first of all, we have to wait and see how many more coaches like Rick Pitino are booted out of their jobs, how many assistant coaches are indicted, and even how many HS kids who took money might be charged with a crime.

Once all of that is cleaned up, we can only assume that smart people like NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and coaches like Bob Hurley will get together and try to come up with a solid plan that finally puts an end to this nonsense once and for all.