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Q&A with former Duke star Bobby Hurley
February 25, 2011 - Cory Giger
Bobby Hurley was one of the great point guards in college basketball history, and I caught up with him Thursday. Hurley is now an assistant coach for Wagner, working for his brother, Dan, who is the head coach.
Q: Which of these do you get asked more about by fans: Christian Laettner's famous shot that beat Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA Tournament, or the win over the great UNLV team in 1991?
A: It's probably the Kentucky game just because of the impact that that had on people. When I would run into people, that's one of the first things that was discussed if we were talking about Duke and my career. They would always say, 'Well, I was here during that game' or 'I was at a wedding' or 'I was here and the whole place was watching it.' It was one of those games where there were so many plays made by both teams and it was unfair almost that one team had to lose. And obviously the drama of Christian making that shot and sending us to the Final Four, it's probably that game. But the Vegas game I'd say is very close to home just because I know just how difficult it was to beat those guys and how talented a group they were.
Q: Can you describe how good that UNLV team was. I've always thought that was the best team in college basketball history, but you guys beat them and won the title. And what was the confidence level you guys had going into that game?
A: We went into that game with something to prove, with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder. We had been embarrassed the year before losing by 30 in the finals, and a lot of those guys returned and so did we. So for us it was a chance for redemption, and I think that was a part of the approach. I think we had a great game plan. Coach K did a phenomenal job of putting us in the right situations to win that game. They were, for me, the best college team that I faced by far. They had NBA players at virtually every position, and it took us a near-perfect type of game to beat them.
Q: What made you so good as a college player with the internal drive and court vision and everything else in your game?
A: I spent a lot of my younger years growing up with a ball in my hands, just going playground to playground looking for games in Jersey City and in the summer would spend sometimes 10-12 hours on the playgrounds. So you develop basketball instincts that way just playing a lot. And I was fortunate just having great coaching growing up, having a chance to play for my dad, who's now a Hall of Fame high school coach, and I was exposed to that. And I think just then toughness that developed inside and the fire from growing up in the city, I was able to carry over and bring that into some really tough spots down the line in college and big games. I was not really afraid to be in that spot. I wanted to be in those big games and make plays and lucky enough, I was able to play with great players like Grant Hill and Laettner and coached by Coach K and that's part of the season I had the success that I did.
Q: College basketball has changed so much with players leaving early or going straight from high school to the NBA. I would say it's watered down a little bit now without senior-laden teams. How would today's teams stack up with the teams of the 1980s and early '90s?
A: I'm not sure that it's fair to compare, but I just know that what you're saying is true in terms of guys not staying long enough. Guys like Shaq, back when I played, we were the same class and he stayed two years. He would never last more than a year in today's day and age. And that's fine. That's the trend and how it is. But the talent level at the top may not be quite as good as it was prior to everyone going hardship and going early into the NBA draft. But it's just as exciting when this time of year rolls around and you get the conference tournaments going and the brackets are just around the corner. So it's still exciting stuff.
Q: What led you into coaching and what has the transition been like for you?
A: I've always, since I stopped playing with my NBA days, I've stayed involved with basketball at some lower levels, working with my son a little bit and some younger kids and doing some stuff with camps in summer. But it's always been in the back of my mind that I've wanted to get at the college level. I've obviously had some great success at this level as a player, and it all came into place when Dan was hired. He gave me an opportunity, and I'm just trying to make the best of it and do a great job for him. We're both committed to turning the program around at Wagner.
Q: Quite often, great players don't necessarily become great coaches because the players they're coaching maybe don't work as hard as they did or don't have as much talent, so it's harder for the former player to relate to the kid. Have you encountered that at all, or has it been a good transition?
A: For me, I was the type of player where the success I had was based on developing a high skill level. I wasn't a phenomenal athlete, I didn't wow you with talent. So I can understand why certain guys maybe can't make a certain play, and then I can try and address it and coach it better. And I think that I've been pretty helpful -- and Dan was a guard also -- but just pointing things out to our guards, things that I'm seeing on the floor and ways that they can improve their games. That's where I see myself making an impact.
Q: How have you and your brother helped Wagner make a significant turnaround this season?
A: I think we kind of rolled our sleeves up right away when we came in. We addressed the talent level and we brought in a couple of incoming freshmen that have made an impact for us this year. … We start three freshmen, we're gonna grow with them and build the program around them and just continue to recruit well and bring in good players. You need good players to win, and then hopefully we'll coach them the way we need to.
Q: What is your long term goal? Do you want to be a head coach at the collegiate level?
A: I feel like I'm improving as a coach daily. I'm thoroughly convinced that I'm enjoying doing what I'm doing, and I don't think you can be successful at anything if you're not committed to it, you don't love it. So those are definitely plusses. I'm also really enjoying spending a lot of time with my brother and doing this with him. [Being a head coach] may be something that could be down the line, but as of right now I'm just focused on doing a great job for Dan here at Wagner.