Hurley brothers are both in NCAA tournament; their dad's a wreck

For the first time, really, as an adult, the coach had no team of his own, so he could sit in the first row behind the bench wearing a long-sleeved, blue Rhode Island basketball T-shirt, standing when the other fans stood, sitting when they sat, clapping only when the moment proved so significant that keeping his arms crossed would have seemed rude. Neither the Rhode Island Rams nor the Arizona State Sun Devils are Bob Hurley Sr.'s team. Try to tell his roiling gut that.

"I said to my wife that I'm more nervous than she could ever be because I know everything that could go wrong," Hurley said. "I'm watching everything under the sun. Nobody knows how many things are going on. Coaches do."

Hurley is, by definition and profession and demeanor, a coach. He's in the basketball Hall of Fame. Over a career that spanned more than 40 years, he won 28 state championships and more than 1,200 games at St. Anthony High in Jersey City. But St. Anthony closed last spring. Hurley had no team of his own, so he adopted the two that made the most sense: Rhode Island, coached by his younger son Dan, and Arizona State, coached by his older son Bobby.

That puts the Hurley patriarch in a unique spot when the NCAA tournament opens Tuesday night, when Bobby's Sun Devils face Syracuse for the right to enter the main draw. He is the only man with two sons as head coaches in the field of 68. More than that, though, he is in position to coach those coaches, to father those sons, nearly 30 years after the two boys played on the same St. Anthony team.

"But he kind of forces me to ask," said Dan Hurley, who played at Seton Hall before getting into the family business. "He stays real positive. He would just wait for me to open up the door - and then I get the wisdom."

Dan Hurley isn't a coaching neophyte. He is in his sixth year at Rhode Island, where he was the Atlantic 10's coach of the year after leading the Rams to the regular-season title. Before that came two years at Wagner, nearly a decade as the coach at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, New Jersey - where he battled his dad for in-state supremacy - and assistant coaching stops at Rutgers and one season under his father on his old bench.

Bobby Hurley was, for a time, the most famous in the family, the point guard for back-to-back national champions at Duke, still the NCAA's career leader in assists. Because Bobby spent five years in the NBA, his coaching career came later. When it began, it did so at Wagner on Dan's staff. Bobby followed Dan to Rhode Island and then broke out on his own, landing his first head job at Buffalo before taking the Arizona State gig in 2015.

"The two of them together? It was two volcanoes erupting almost simultaneously," Hurley Sr. said. "Every once in a while, the two of them would have a brief argument on the sideline - which was very much like any time in the house growing up. It would last a little bit, and then it'd be gone."

Now, though, the frivolous arguments about which play to run or what player to insert are over. Bob Hurley's boys text or talk daily. They watch each other's games. They live with results over which they have no control. Need evidence? Watch the video of Dan Hurley, his Rams gathered round, reacting to the news that Bobby's on-the-bubble Sun Devils made the NCAA field. He punched the air with excitement, then buried his head in his hands, the emotions too much.

"Just having your best friend in the world, the person you love each the most, to have them there to pick up the pieces, it means so much," Dan Hurley said. "We need each other. In this business, we need each other."

What they're finding, though, is they also need their dad. And their dad is available - mostly. Bob Hurley Sr. might not have a team of his own. But at 70, he couldn't put down the game altogether. So he runs a nonprofit in Jersey City, and from 3-6 p.m. every day he teaches kids basketball. Bounce pass. Pivot foot. Jump shot. Basics.

But Dan, in particular, got to pick his brain this season. "Just proximity," Hurley Sr. said, because he could close the Jersey City gym on a given Friday and make it to Kingston, Rhode Island, for practice. Tempe, Arizona, proved too far, so he had to catch up with Bobby every 10 days or so by phone. Dan's team, though, was at his fingertips. He could sit in the stands and take mental notes on practice. He could teach his son about keeping a team on edge, eternally ready to compete.

"It's funny, because when I get really negative about players, he pumps me up, which is a nice reversal," Dan said. "I didn't get that!"

Unless asked, Bob does not offer specific thoughts on how to defend or attack another team. But he knows the Rams' personnel better than anyone not on Dan's staff. A few weeks ago, when the Rams were starting to struggle, he reminded Dan not to give up on senior forward Andre Berry, who was losing minutes to sophomore Cyril Langevine. The father's message to son: Don't simultaneously wear out Langevine physically and hurt Berry's confidence, because you need them both.

"I know when we're talking about it," Hurley Sr. said, "he's already gone through paralysis by analysis, which coaches do. So I try to be positive." 

It makes sense, then, that Berry had 18 points and nine rebounds in Saturday's narrow victory over Saint Joseph's in the conference semifinals. 

"Just an amazing resource to have," Dan said.

When the NCAA tournament begins, that amazing resource will be there for two sons, two teams traveling two paths. The gym in Jersey City will sit closed this week. Bob Sr. and his wife Chris were poised to travel, first to Dayton, Ohio for Bobby's game, then maybe Pittsburgh for Rhode Island or onto Detroit for Arizona State. One legendary coach helping two teams from afar, maybe the best resource for any team in the field.

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