Hur­ley vows to build, not buy cham­pi­onships

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Sports - JEFF JA­COBS jeff.ja­cobs @hearst­medi­act.com; @jef­f­ja­cobs123

STORRS — Cham­pi­ons in pro­fes­sional sports are … check that. Let’s start again.

Cham­pi­ons in pro­fes­sional and ma­jor col­lege sports are ei­ther built or bought.

After open­ing the doors to the pub­lic Satur­day for a pre­sea­son prac­tice at Gam­pel Pavil­ion, coach Dan Hur­ley, on a hell­fire mis­sion to bring cham­pi­onship bas­ket­ball back to UConn, swore it would never be the lat­ter.

He swore it on the Hur­ley fam­ily name.

“I was a high school coach for nine years (at St. Bene­dict’s in Ne­wark),” Hur­ley said. “I had seven McDon­ald’s All-Amer­i­cans my last eight years, or six my last seven. I had teams with eight or nine Di­vi­sion I play­ers on a team. No one ever of­fered me a lunch or any money. I’ve never had a re­cruit, han­dler, men­tor or a grass-roots guy ever ask me or a staff mem­ber for a thing.

“I just think that’s be­cause they know who my dad is, who my fam­ily is. They know we would rather fail and lose with in­tegrity. How do you coach a kid after you pay him? How do you be their coach? How do you set the stan­dard for them when you had to sell your soul like that?

“I come to UConn now and if I lose re­cruits over the years be­cause I was un­will­ing to en­ter that world, I’m fine with that.”

Those aren’t lit­tle words. Those are big, im­por­tant words to the in­tegrity of the game, to the in­tegrity of a school that has agreed to pay him an av­er­age of $3 mil­lion a year for six years, to a state still weigh­ing the $10 mil­lion ques­tion of how much did Kevin Ol­lie cheat or lie or vi­o­late the terms of his con­tract.

Hur­ley’s dad Bob, among the most sto­ried high school coaches in his­tory, is in the Nai­smith Bas­ket­ball Hall of Fame. Just like Jim Cal­houn. Just like Geno Auriemma. Just like John Wooden. His brother Bobby is the coach at Ari­zona State.

Dan Hur­ley swears on the fam­ily name he’s go­ing to build and not buy.

I believe him.

Yet as Louisville, Duke, Kan­sas and other schools see their names and the names of their coaches ap­pear in the col­lege bas­ket­ball cor­rup­tion trial in New York, there also is no short­age of peo­ple around the na­tion who would roll their eyes at his words. All that sneaker money, all that goes into the gi­ant cesspool, no one at this point could be blamed for scream­ing, “I don’t believe any­body!”

“I don’t think (peo­ple) nec­es­sar­ily look at Danny or Bobby Hur­ley as any­thing dif­fer­ent right now,” Hur­ley said. “It has been very ugly. It’s a bad look for col­lege bas­ket­ball coaches. I re­mem­ber when it first hit last year there was a lit­tle bit of shame walk­ing around with a polo, rep­re­sent­ing a col­lege bas­ket­ball pro­gram.

“I can imag­ine sports fans across the coun­try are skep­ti­cal about what goes on in re­cruit­ing in col­lege bas­ket­ball based on what they’re read­ing right now and with the trial.”

So if he isn’t go­ing to buy UConn a fifth na­tional ti­tle, heck, if he isn’t go­ing to buy UConn its sec­ond AAC Tour­na­ment ti­tle, he is go­ing to have to build it.

There has been lit­tle not to like about Hur­ley since he took over in March. Un­der Con­necti­cut’s great glare, we will re­serve judg­ment for one sea­son on his emer­gence as a Zen mas­ter. We’ll see how the self-de­scribed “In­cred­i­ble Hulk” on game nights morphs into med­i­ta­tion, prayer, read­ing and jour­nal-writ­ing the next morn­ing. We’ll see how it all goes after Chris­tian Vi­tal chucks a cou­ple of in­dis­crim­i­nate threes or Eric Cobb’s thought process wan­ders.

Yet this much is sure. He is a coach in the no­ble sense. He thinks the game. He ex­plains the game with laser pre­ci­sion. On this day, he talked about the prob­lems Tyler Pol­ley and his shot will cause as a start­ing stretch 4. How it will force a big­ger 4 from the bas­ket, leav­ing Pol­ley, a some­what lim­ited ball­han­dler, a much bet­ter chance at beat­ing that op­po­nent than a 3. Pol­ley can cre­ate one-on-one for the post player and open the court for the three guards. Hur­ley con­ceded Pol­ley lacks quick­ness to guard a 3 and needs to work on work on phys­i­cal­ity and re­bound­ing at the 4. Later when I asked him in con­ver­sa­tion about the wis­dom of a lanky Pol­ley along with three guards on the de­fen­sive end, he went on a nu­anced ex­pla­na­tion how it worked at Rhode Is­land. He also al­ter­nated plans against more tra­di­tional big-tough op­po­nents. (Think Cincin­nati).

He didn’t brush off the ques­tion or de­mean an out­sider with a, “How dare you chal­lenge my all-know­ing wis­dom” look. He clearly loves to coach and talk about the game.

And he swears on his fam­ily name.

“Cham­pi­ons start car­ry­ing them­selves like cham­pi­ons be­fore they be­come them,” Hur­ley said. “Michi­gan State, the Vil­lanova, their hud­dles look a cer­tain way. My teams at Rhode Is­land. We had the habits of cham­pi­onship pro­grams. The way we com­mu­ni­cated with each other. The way we came in and out of time­outs. The way sub­sti­tutes ran on and off the court.

“Ev­ery­thing mat­ters in cham­pi­onship level or­ga­ni­za­tions. This is what the first two years are like. You fight over ev­ery de­tail. You fight for their souls in ev­ery way … Ev­ery­thing around (the play­ers) has to be high level, too. I put a tremen­dous amount of pres­sure on my­self, my staff and also on aca­demic sup­port, mar­ket­ing, sports in­for­ma­tion, strength and con­di­tion­ing. It’s not just these kids. It’s the whole place we’ve got to get right if you want to have Fi­nal Four ex­pec­ta­tions. Your in­vest­ment has to equal your ex­pec­ta­tions or else we’re all just kid­ding our­selves.”

Out­played, even out­classed, by a su­pe­rior op­po­nent? Hur­ley said he can han­dle it.

“Never out­worked,” he said. “No team should ever play harder. If that hap­pens I have not done my job … sim­ple as that. You’ll never hear ex­cuses in terms of that from me.”

So here was Dan Hur­ley’s voice dur­ing this high-tempo pub­lic prac­tice, no whis­tle, never a whis­tle. Cre­at­ing a stress­ful en­vi­ron­ment, mak­ing it as chaotic as pos­si­ble so games will seem slow. You want to run full­court de­fense? You’ve got to wear your op­po­nent out.

Hur­ley has han­dled a glos­sary to his play­ers. Af­ter­ward, he starts a quar­ter­back’s ca­dence, “Red! 42! Omaha!” None of that in bas­ket­ball. It’s close out! Or rim run! Or show! The ter­mi­nol­ogy is short. The re­ac­tion must be im­me­di­ate.

“Think hard while run­ning hard,” he said.

He said he coaches Josh Carl­ton and Sid­ney Wil­son more than any­body. With their abil­ity they need to be fully en­gaged more. Dur­ing prac­tice he was on Chris­tian Vi­tal and Jalen Adams for tak­ing low-per­cent­age chances for steals. He said guys bailed on six charges. Noth­ing worse the day after a loss — noth­ing — Dan Hur­ley said than watch­ing guys on video un­will­ing to give up their body for their team­mates.

Yes, he’s go­ing to build it. He’s not go­ing to buy it. He swears on the fam­ily name.

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