When I talked with Dan Hurley last December, it was a week after his Wagner team had knocked off Pitt on the road, the Seahawks first win over a ranked team since 1978.
Wagner, that tiny college from Staten Island, is now looking for its next coach after Hurley took the job yesterday at Rhode Island. The Rams were 315th of 345 D-I teams last season in field-goal percentage, while Wagner was off to a 25-6 record in Hurley’s second season.
Why should you care? Hurley’s small-scale success at Wagner could get real big, real quick.
The year before Hurley took over the team was 3-15 in the Northeast Conference. So when all Hurley did was start 9-4 in the NEC in his first year, it was bound to catch attention. By the time he finished this season, when the Seahawks turned down the College Basketball Invitational in the postseason, he was bound to get snagged by a bigger school. This happens all over the place in sports; it’s a natural coaching evolution.
He didn’t see success like the landmark Pitt win coming: “No chance. No chance,” he told me.
The difference is Hurley could stick because of the cache he holds with his name and his connections he can hold with the best prep players.
The Atlantic 10 has its traditional top tier in Temple and Xavier, but there’s “no chance” the Rams won’t improve dramatically (think a St. Bonaventure run) under Hurley because of how well he knows the elite high school circuit. His father, Bob, is the legendary coach at St. Anthony’s in New Jersey, and Dan made St. Benedict’s a peer by turning out J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, Samardo Samuels and Lance Thomas, to name a few.
Here’s what he said in December in our Q-and-A:
I have to say thanks to all the big guys I’ve coached at St. Benedict’s because they got me to where I could get this job. If it wasn’t for their talent and skill and way we won, I don’t think a college in their right mind would have hired me. Early on in recruiting we sold that because a lot kids we were recruiting knew of Tristan Thompson, J.R. Smith, Lance Thomas. They know those names and have seen them. We use that early but now, I think, our recruiting is what we want to accomplish at Wagner. we still have a long way to go.
His teams play a high-scoring offense (50th in the countryat 73.4 a game) that recruits like, and he’ll have his brother, Bobby, still on his staff. The Hurley brand name will continue, and success should follow to Kingston.
Hit page two to read as Hurley gave “The Pitch” for Dime #68 (on newsstands now), telling why everyone – at the time – should consider going to Wagner.
Hurley is less a last name than a brand name in New Jersey synonymous with winning basketball. Dan Hurley’s understands the name carries pressure.
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Growing up in the St. Anthony’s tradition under his father and the program’s coach for more than 40 years, Bob, and with a standout all-American brother, Bobby, Dan is making his own mark in a little-known corner of basketball mecca, New York City.
Hurley, the head coach at Wagner in his second season, is not foreign to the college sideline. He played at Seton Hall and coached at Rutgers for four years, before returning to the prep scene at St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey. There, he turned out all-Americans such as J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson, Samardo Samuels and Lance Thomas before taking on his biggest project: reviving Wagner basketball.
Getting that goal closer to fruition has been aided by the Seahawks’ upset at Pitt, 59-54, on Dec. 23 for their first win over a ranked team since 1978. The Panthers had been 70-0 against teams from the NEC. It got the program national coverage overnight. Now, he’d like it to change the way outsiders view his program.
“It’s a great opportunity to be coached by people that are going to care about them, run a top basketball program and you get a great education. You’re going to live and play in one of the most exciting places in our country to live and play: New York City. There’s a lot to sell and we’ve been successful to this point.
“We have a true fan base, which you know, you can’t say about every program in the country. We have a fan base that’s very supportive and with what our kids have been able to accomplish on the floor and they’re generating more excitement, which means we’re going to add to our fan base. People are talking, right now with the talk of Staten Island. That moment versus Pitt did a lot to raise our profile.
“Kids in our program accept coaching with open arms. They’re skillful, talented players in their own right. They work hard to get better every day, and that in some instances will allow us to close the gap with their skill and ability when we play teams from bigger conferences. They make a full, year-round commitment to improvement and I think that’s what’s pushed us way ahead of where we thought we’d be.
“We’ve just gotta understand that we’re at the infant stages of building something and we’re off to a great start this year. There’s a lot of season left to be played. With our players, they’re hungry and humble and they want more for themselves and for our program and there’s not a group of guys who practice as hard, study as hard for opponents. It doesn’t meant that we’re going to win every game but every game we play in we give ourselves a chance to win.”
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