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How ASU basketball coach Bobby Hurley exudes intensity and incandescence

The former Duke guard has led ASU to three wins against top-three opponents

Bobby Hurley 2.jpg

"Hurley's gravitas is best explained as a hybrid of old-school basketball intensity and modern-day incandescence β€” and getting to know the evolution of both is essential."


Being an NCAA Division I men's basketball coach is a desirable position, and the coach needs to have impressive credentials and experience β€” things coach Bobby Hurley certainly possesses.

Among many of his feats as a player is helping coach Mike Krzyzewski lead Duke to the Final Four three times and winning consecutive national championships. As a coach, Hurley led Buffalo to its first NCAA tournament appearance in program history. At ASU, he's led the Sun Devils to consecutive NCAA appearances for the first time since 1980-81.

Hurley's gravitas is best explained as a hybrid of old-school basketball intensity and modern-day incandescence β€” and getting to know the evolution of both is essential.

Before the titles, there was just Bobby Hurley, and the Hurley men didn't lose. Basketball was the air they breathed. 

"Absolutely despise losing"

Bobby grew up with a hall of fame father, a coaching legend in high school basketball. Bob Hurley Sr. won 26 state championships in his 39-year coaching tenure in New Jersey City, which meant Bob wasn't used to losing.

"Dad taught us to absolutely despise losing," UConn coach and Bobby's younger brother Dan Hurley said. "(We) hate failure. Failure for us and losing a game feel more like shame."

On the rare occasion Bob Sr. lost a game (five teams went undefeated during his tenure), he'd be hard on himself.

Bobby and Dan shared a room in the basement. It was a race to hide from Bob Sr. so they didn't have to witness how their father took the loss.

"It (the basement) was the furthest place to get away without actually being outside the house," Dan joked. 

Winning was natural, and losing was a flaw.

"99 out of 100 people."

Bobby was an extraordinary athlete from his high school tenure, when he was coached by his father, all the way to his time at Duke under Krzyzewski, which led him to the NBA.

All Bobby ever knew was basketball until his life changed course.

A few months after the Sacramento Kings drafted Bobby, he was commuting home on the backroads of Sacramento after a loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, when a Buick station wagon with no lights blindsided him.

Bobby, who wasn't wearing a seatbelt, was launched 100 feet from the car and suffered two collapsed lungs, a ruptured trachea, broken ribs, a compression fracture in his back and several injuries to his wrists and legs.

"I didn't think I was going to make it," Bobby said.

A surgeon later said the injuries from the accident would have killed 99 out of 100 people. Bobby survived, but he wasn't the same.

Rehabilitation took him back to New Jersey, where he'd visit Dan once a week while he attended Seton Hall, eventually crossing paths with another Seton Hall student, Leslie.

"Most girls get taken out on dates," Bobby's now-wife laughed as she recalled. "I was taken to rehab, workouts and basketball practice." Bobby was committed to returning to the NBA, so he welcomed Leslie into his basketball world.

Leslie didn't know much about basketball at the time. She immersed herself in his world by finding different ways to help Bobby during workouts.

"I'd rebound for him, and sometimes it wasn't the best pass," Leslie joked. "He'd shoot the ball and say, 'Bad pass, bad shot.' He was always focused, but we just clicked and were always laughing when we were together."

Eventually, Bobby returned to Sacramento to continue playing in the NBA, and Leslie followed. But his injuries made him realize he would never be the same player again. 

He retired in 1998. There was, however, a silver-lining.

"If it wasn't for the accident," Bobby said, "I wouldn't have my family."

Bobby went on to have two daughters, Sydney and Cameron, and one son, Bobby Jr.

"He's a great dad," Leslie said. "He was such a girl dad until Bobby was born, and then he was just a great dad.

"How he is with his kids, he's like that with his players," she said. "Always protecting and fighting for them, and people misunderstand that."

The technical fouls

Almost a decade after leaving basketball in his rearview, Bobby became an assistant coach to his brother Dan at Wagner College in 2010.

"There's a UFC fight," Dan said. "Then there's WWE wrestling. I would compare it to something along those lines. The games were wild. I would not want to be an official assigned to Wagner when it was my brother and me."

Dan would be yelling at one referee during the games while Bobby was yelling at the other. But, of course, the referees would have to pick someone to give a technical foul to, so they'd almost always pick Bobby.

In Dan and Bobby's second year of coaching at Wagner, Bobby received more technical fouls than Dan.

"You'll probably never see that again, an assistant coach getting more technical fouls than the head coach," Dan said "It was (clear he) loved his players so much."

His truth

When Stanford defeated ASU, 79-76, on Jan. 22, 2022, it was a game to remember.

The Sun Devils stormed into the locker rooms fuming at halftime. The players wanted to take matters into their own hands and address the referees, especially graduate forward Kimani Lawrence.

Stanford led 42-32, but that wasn't the source of the team's frustration. ASU only had one free throw attempt while Stanford had 17.

"Focus on the game," coach Hurley said to Lawrence. "If I get thrown off this game because they treat you guys unfairly, then that's what it's going to have to be. Just don't put yourself at risk and I'll put myself on the line for it."

The players obeyed for the duration of the game until Alonzo Gaffney fouled out with 61 seconds to go. Lawrence also fouled out and the Sun Devils lost going 7 of 9 from the free-throw line compared to the Cardinal's 32 of 41. Coach Hurley received a technical foul while he was addressing the referees as he egressed the floor.

"He'll never point fingers at the players," Lawrence said. "He'll always take the blame for us even if it's 100% our fault. People misunderstand him because they don't know him."

Coach Hurley has been there for Lawrence through thick and thin, on or off the court. 

Last summer, Lawrence's friend passed away and Lawrence confided in coach Hurley. Lawrence tried to keep it together until he saw coach Hurley tearing up for him.

"He wears his heart on his sleeve," Lawrence said. "He really cares. It might not be the same way others express emotions, but if you know him, you know it’s from a good place."


Reach the reporter at rgarora@asu.edu and follow @RubyGiaArora on Twitter.

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