February 24th, 2012
Hurley Leading Friars Through Four Decades
Hall of Famer Hurley continues to thrive at St. Anthony
In the Pantheon of high school basketball coaches, two names immediately come to mind: Wootten and Hurley. From a couple of generations past, Morgan Wootten of DeMatha Catholic (Hyattsville, MD) and for the current generation, Bob Hurley of St. Anthony (Jersey City, NJ).
To countless numbers of student-athletes past and present, it is generally their high school coach that has had a unique and profound effect on not just their basketball careers, but their lives. Just ask Michael Jordan about being cut by his JV coach and the motivation that gave him.
In the past 50 years Hurley and Wootten are the premier examples of coaches contributing more to the lives of their players beyond their basketball careers. These two men are historical and foundational pillars at their respective schools as they have given players the mechanisms to flourish in life beyond the basketball court.
Two years ago Hurley joined Wootten (Naismith Hall of Fame class of 2000) and Ernest Blood of Passaic High and St. Benedict (Naismith Hall of Fame class of 1960) as the only high school coaches enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame.
While this decorated trio may have made it to the Hall of Fame with exemplary win-loss records, it was and is their passion for molding the character of hundreds of young men under their tutelage.
For Hurley, it is taking his message to those who may never have an opportunity to get out of some of the most dire circumstances life can present.
“The process for us is that we want to make our kids better every day,” said the Hall of Famer Hurley of his coaching style. “We don’t want them to be concerned about our record or our ranking, just our practice and getting better every day collectively and individually. We want them playing their best basketball when the state tournament starts.”
But year in and year out, the annual polls and rankings point towards Hurley’s St. Anthony Friars as one of the best teams in the country. The Friars currently sit atop the CatholicSportsNet.com Catholic high school Power Rankings and continue to sit at or near the top of many national polls.
As much national notoriety as the St. Anthony’s basketball program has received, Hurley’s passion, drive and dedication are the constants that have made such attention possible. The school’s mission and Bob Hurley, a match which has changed the fortunes of so many, have become synonymous. “The Street Stops Here”, a 2008 documentary shown recently on ESPN, chronicles the connection between the coach, the school, the student-athletes and the Jersey City community where they have served for decades.
“It’s clear that the high school sport of basketball, because of the internet and the amount of attention the kids receive way too early in their careers, sometimes leaves them clouded as to how much they need to improve,” said Hurley measuring his words with precision. “I think we handle it pretty well of keeping things in perspective and with where a player needs to be. But there are people around them who don’t realize that things like rankings are just subjective and they sometimes get in the way of getting better.”
Hurley has seen the rise not only of team rankings and high school top 25 lists, but also player rankings. As if a scouting guru can really tell how many stars player X or player Y is worth after watching 5 minutes of some individual-laden AAU summer game.
“For decades, kids that grew up here in Jersey City that I coached just played at our school, in their neighborhood, on the playgrounds and in the recreation centers. They went to basketball camps in the summer to test themselves and maybe to get their coaches to see them. And now you see kids who are 12 and 13 years old aware of college interest in them. As Rick Pitino said, ‘It’s a microwave society,’ and we’re trying to rush every single process. I still like to think that there is something called a late bloomer. And we still convince our guys that because you’re not as good as one player, you can become better than that guy by working hard and doing the things you need to do. You can always challenge yourself to be the best player you can be. That is something that is a little bit harder now because there are a lot more people telling the kids about their rankings and things like that. Those things, to me, are irrelevant.”
“College coaches have to trust high school coaches when they tell them that they have a kid who they realize will develop with a little more time and work. I use Chris Gaston from my school as one of the prime examples. After graduating from St. Anthony’s he needed a year of prep school. And after that year, we convinced Fordham that they should recruit him. He went to Fordham and he was one of only six freshman to ever average 17 (points) and 11 (rebounds) and the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year. Last year he was the number 5 rebounder in the country. We kept telling people that he’d get better and better and Fordham was smart enough to listen.”
Hurley’s ability to understand a player’s talent comes from his ability to understand a player’s life and all that may come with that. To see that a Chris Gaston would mature a little later in his teens than most exemplifies how Hurley educates his players on using basketball as a means to something bigger rather than allowing basketball to use up their lives.Part two of this story will be featured next Monday on the CatholicSportsJournal.com and CatholicSportsNet.com