Bobby Hurley Talks Fab Five, Jalen Rose, March Madness and More

Bobby HurleyGuest ColumnistMarch 27, 2011

Bobby Hurley won back-to-back national titles as a point guard at Duke. After a brief NBA career, Hurley is back in college basketball on the sidelines. As his dad, Bob Hurley Sr., is profiled on "60 Minutes" for his legendary coaching run at St. Anthony's, Bobby talks of March Madness memories, the Fab Five and getting into the family coaching business.

It’s a special thing when you pinpoint when and where dreams come true. 

Basketball is what I know, what I was born to do. So this stretch of days never gets old for me.

"Oh, but you went to Duke. The Sweet 16 just means a stopover on the way to the Final Four for you guys." I’ve heard that plenty and it couldn’t be more wrong.

My teammates and I lived out epic memories. Being on the court to experience Grant Hill’s pass and Christian Laettner’s shot against Kentucky, it was life changing. To go from crushing defeat to that moment, I remember running off the court saying, "Did that really just happen?"

All these years later, I am honored to have been part of that. 

So now as a coach and a fan, I live for these moments. I’ve spent my entire life in a gym, so I know the work these teams put in to reach this spotlight. 

To see the Richmonds and the VCUs hit this stage is what makes the NCAA tourney so amazing. It makes all those moments I never want to forget feel brand new every time I see a clutch shot or an impossible pass made.

That’s what makes March Madness so brilliant. It changes schools, it levels the playing field and it shows that no matter where you start, all the work you put in when no one is watching can lead to a storybook ending.

I’m fortunate that fans remember my endings. This is the time of year when the media wants to talk to me and I enjoy talking. This year, Dove Men Care put me in a commercial to share those memories.

I was scheduled for a series of interviews the Monday after the brackets were announced to promote Dove, to talk about the tournament and the brackets. Sunday night, I’m sitting at home watching The Fab Five documentary on ESPN about the Michigan teams of my era.

I heard the hurtful words that Jalen Rose and Jimmy King were putting out there. At first, it made me smile because it just meant we had their number.

I gave them a memory like UNLV gave me, humiliating us in the tourney when I was a freshman, or like Cal gave me as a senior, knocking us out of the tourney way too soon.

But then the words just got way too personal. They started taking shots at my teammates and it angered me. Part of me is thinking, “Oh man, this isn’t what I want to talk about Monday.”

The more they talked, it just felt like 1992 all over again. So understandably, I had my teammates’ backs because some of the things they said were outlandish.

The portrayal of the Duke program is so often just not based on facts. Every one of my teammates earned their spot at Duke. They were amazing people, students and competitors. So all I want to do is remind the Fab Five of what happened 20 years ago. The results still speak for themselves.

To say Coach K and Duke only recruit private school rich kids, that’s just off base. He is a diverse recruiter who is very willing to go after players of all backgrounds. He doesn’t have one set criteria for the kind of kid he recruits.

Listen, I get it. You win and you polarize people. They either get on board or want to tear you down. But teammates become your family; you’re there for each other through all of it.

I know the Fab Five has that same bond. I appreciated hearing them give us some props because we did beat them three times and earned their respect. They tried to intimidate us, but we knew we could beat them. UNLV, even if we played our most inspired game, we knew it might not be enough. But Michigan, we could handle.

All I ever wanted was a career in the NBA. I wanted to play 10 years, play on some winning teams, be a vital contributor, in playoffs, competing. Play for one team, have some other teams come after you and want you as a free agent.

I never had that trajectory. I lived my life for a dream, a vision of how I wanted that next level to go. I never had those kinds of seasons in my five years in the league.

I went through a car accident during my NBA rookie season that left me fighting for my life. I pushed myself through rehab with one goal in mind—stepping back onto the basketball court. It was another challenge just to feel comfortable enough to get in a car and drive down the street again. But like everything else in my life, I went after it, working as hard as I could. Because "can’t" is not a word in my vocabulary.

That accident haunted me for years. As people, we have a tendency to remember the pain more than the great things. That is why I stepped away from basketball for awhile. I have an amazing wife and three wonderful kids, but that piece of my life really tore me up. I coached my son’s rec team, but I needed to get away from the game at that higher level.

Blending in and getting away wasn’t hard to do. I don’t exactly scream basketball player walking down the street. My son is proud of my accomplishments; my family knows how hard I worked to get what I earned. But it wasn’t enough for me.

That’s why this year has been so special for me. Coaching at Wagner with my brother Dan, learning from him, following in my father’s footsteps, working with and mentoring kids again and helping them achieve their dreams, has healed all those old wounds. 

I have been able to utilize all the lessons from my dad and Coach K and put them to use with our players.

Getting on the court with them, that’s a piece of cake. It’s happy time, what I’ve always known. The recruiting part scared me because it was the unknown. But I attacked it and relish in our successes. Working to land that special player that my brother and I see fitting into our vision for the future of the program, that’s been great.

We took our kids from five to 13 wins this year. To see them learn how to win and feel like all their hard work has paid off assures me we are on the right track. We’re going to be that Cinderella soon. 

I know people expected me to get back in somewhere other than Staten Island, NY. But this is my home now and nothing would compare to being able to work with my brother Dan on a daily basis.

Wagner’s been good for us and we’re committed to turning this program around. All assistants want to become head coaches, but I’m enjoying it here and earning my way up the ladder.

We want our kids to be the next Richmond or VCU. Those kids playing in this Sweet 16, I’d tell them to soak it all in—you are living your dreams.   

My son and I watched last weekend. Carolina versus Washington, that reminded me of the way we used to battle with UNLV and Kentucky. 

Kemba Walker, what a beast. Jimmer Fredette, so gutsy. I love watching the little guy take over the game.

But most of all, I just love the tournament.


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