Hurley Credits Blaney With Big Assist

On the bus trip with his team Sunday night from Staten Island to Connecticut, Wagner coach Dan Hurley had two thoughts he simply couldn't get out of his mind.

First was his wish there had been more time to enjoy Saturday night's season-opening victory over Princeton. The other was a feeling of anticipation, his eagerness to visit with his former college coach, George Blaney.

"I'm looking forward to seeing Coach before the game, much more than I'm looking forward to playing against the Huskies, I can tell you that," Hurley said by cell phone during that bus trip.

It figures to be a very warm reunion between the two former Seton Hall Pirates Monday night at Gampel Pavilion. Blaney, now associate head coach at UConn under Jim Calhoun, was head coach at Seton Hall from 1994-1997 and Hurley had his most productive seasons in a Pirates uniform in Blaney's first two seasons.

But that is the CliffsNotes version of their relationship. The bond shared by Hurley and Blaney runs much deeper and is more complicated than anyone could realize from observing them together on a basketball court.

"To me, it's real simple with Coach," Hurley said. "He really kind of saved me in the sport. I probably would be as far away from basketball right now as I could get if it wasn't for the two years that I spent playing for Coach at Seton Hall.

"He saved my soul in athletics, and in basketball in particular, with the way he coached me and the way he ran his program. It was just his caring about me as an individual, and my emotional and mental growth as a human being, that transcended wins or losses.

"He's a great man. I know I wouldn't be a coach right now if he didn't come to Seton Hall."

That's the kind of testimonial that doesn't show in a coach's biographical sketch that focuses on season records and career totals. There's no statistic to measure the impact of a coach who just happens to enter a player's life at the right time.

Hurley, 39, now has short graying hair and wears wire frame glasses. If you remember him as a player, you may not recognize him as a coach. The one constant, however, is the Hurley name – and that was part of the burden that chased him away from basketball for a period in that Seton Hall career.

His father, Bob Hurley Sr., is the legendary Hall of Fame high school coach from St. Anthony in Jersey City, New Jersey. His older brother Bobby, now his assistant at Wagner, was an All-American at Duke, a Final Four MVP, led the Blue Devils to consecutive national championship and remains the all-time assist leader in NCAA history.

Dan once told the New York Daily News that he was the second-best player in his family and the second-best coach. He said he had to "own that and live with that." And as great as his father and brother were and are, "that's something that can be tiresome."

After playing for his father, a demanding, intense and relentless coach, at St. Anthony, Dan thought about signing with Rutgers. Instead, Terry Dehere and Jerry Walker convinced him to join them at Seton Hall, where P.J. Carlesimo had built the Pirates into a Big East contender and had taken them to the 1989 Final Four.

The weight of New Jersey was on him at Seton Hall. He played in 30 games as a freshman and averaged 4.8 points. He started 16 games in 1992-93 and averaged 6.1 points, but it wasn't good enough because of all the comparisons. He was jeered by fans, who chanted, ‘You're not Bob-by."

"I don't think that even played into my psyche," Dan Hurley said. "That's what the story becomes. The real story was that I wasn't allowing myself to be as good as I should have been. It was a lack of maturity. I thought I was prepared but it took me more time than it probably should have."

After Hurley started the first two games of the 1993-94 season, Carlesimo announced his junior guard was taking a leave of absence from the Seton Hall team. He sat out an 82-66 loss to UConn when the flu was given as the reason. On Dec. 11, 1993, he missed a win over St. Bonaventure. Carlesimo said, "He has to get away from us and basketball for a while. I expect him back but I can't even guess about a time frame."

Hurley battled depression and lost his self worth. He didn't return until the following year, after Carlesimo had left for the NBA and Blaney had been hired as coach.

"He taught me a lot about being a man and how to conduct myself – on and off the court," Hurley said of Blaney. "He helped me put basketball in perspective, which I had trouble doing prior to that. I thought [basketball] was the only thing. I thought that was my life.

"It wasn't about the friendships. It wasn't about your family. It wasn't about your academic performance. It wasn't about being socially responsible. I thought it was just about trying to play and become a great college player, so that I could become a pro. Being exposed to somebody like Coach, his excellence as a coach, his wisdom and the quality human being that he is, it was just a great example for me."

Hurley started all 55 games he played at Seton Hall under Blaney. He averaged 15.3 points in 1994-95 and 14.3 points as a senior in 1995-96. He finished his Seton Hall career with 1,070 points and the jeers went away.

"I tell everybody he was better than his brother," Blaney said. "He had more talent. He was a better passer. He handled the ball. He just didn't work as hard as Bobby. Bobby bought into everything that his father taught him. Danny's game was a little loose. He was certainly a good college player, but Bobby had an incredible career.

"I always thought Danny would be a good coach. He's very smart and had an incredible feel for the game. People like him. He's tough. And, I'll say it again, he's very smart."

After assisting his father at St. Anthony for one season, Hurley joined Kevin Bannon's staff at Rutgers and "learned a lot" from the turmoil that led to Bannon's dismissal. He took a break from college ball and spent nine years at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, where he posted a 223-21 record, developed four McDonald's All-Americans and had four teams ranked in the top five nationally.

When Wagner called, Hurley felt it was the right opportunity. In his first season, the Seahawks made an eight-game improvement in the victory column and finished 9-9 in the Northeast Conference. With recruiting going well, Hurley feels the program is on the right track.

And regarding that smart gene Blaney talked about, Hurley said he it might have kicked in as he closed out his Big East playing career at a time when UConn's Ray Allen, Georgetown's Allen Iverson and Villanova's Kerry Kittles were in charge and dominating the conference.

In fact, Allen and UConn ended Hurley's Big East career on March 7, 1996 when the Huskies beat Seton Hall 79-58 in the conference tournament quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden. Hurley was 1-for-13 from the field and finished with four points.

"It was a real serious rivalry when I was at the Hall," Hurley said. "The way the UConn fans would travel when they came to the Meadowlands, back in the day, it would feel like an NCAA tournament regional final or something.

"I remember the fact that I could never make shots or score against UConn. In that last game, Ray Allen was guarding me. I can't be real sad about that. He did that to a lot of guys. . . . That was a great time. But seeing the difference between me, Ray Allen, Kerry Kittles and Allen Iverson made me realize if I wanted to stay in game, it would be as a coach."

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