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From Jersey with love, Bobby Hurley has deep ties to the Final Four

The ASU head coach's fingerprints are all over the Final Four with a former Sun Devil and a pair of familiar coaches competing for a national title

Senior Reporter-final-four-Bobby-Hurley

ASU men's basketball head coach Bobby Hurley during game against Washington at Desert Financial Arena on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024 in Tempe. ASU lost 84-82.

It's six degrees of Bobby Hurley at the Final Four with the ASU head coach's connections on and off the court.

Hurley's law ties key figures on three Final Four teams back to the Sun Devils' coach. Bobby Hurley's season didn't go how he wanted, but all roads lead to Hurley for those left standing.

"I feel like there are people that I've been connected to that I'm extremely happy for, that I've worked with, that are doing it," Hurley said.

A kid from Raleigh becomes a local legend

North Carolina State University graduate guard DJ Horne had a long journey to get where he is now. Horne played two seasons at Illinois State before transferring to ASU. In Tempe, he was a mainstay in Bobby Hurley's backcourt for two years, averaging 12.5 points per game in both seasons. He led the team in scoring and second in assists in the 2021-22 season.

Yet, the Raleigh, North Carolina native couldn't pass up the chance to play for his hometown team when the opportunity came calling. Horne’s homecoming even reconnected him with junior guard Alex Nunnally, a native of Cary, North Carolina, who grew up playing football with him. Nunnally did his best to convince Horne to transfer on his visit to NC State and gave him "a little extra motivation" to come home.

"He was a lot faster than me and still is, but it was a lot of fun," Nunnally said. "Our families have known each other forever, so it's been great."

The second transfer of Horne's college career has paid off as the Wolfpack danced back to their first Final Four appearance since 1983. Horne knew he had to go back home but acknowledged that he couldn’t have done it without the support of his former coach.

"Coach Hurley was a big stepping stone in my journey," Horne said. "He's helped me seek opportunities I don't think I would've got if I didn't go to Arizona State. I appreciate him for that."

A coaching tree flowers

University of Alabama head coach Nate Oats may not have coached at ASU, but he did coach under Hurley. The Crimson Tide will take on head coach the Dan Hurley's UConn)¸ Huskies, and the close family ties aren't lost on Oats.

"It's ironic that my first Final Four that I make, the first one Alabama makes, coaching against Danny Hurley, brother Bobby is the one that got me in this business," Oats said. "If it wasn't for Danny and Bobby, I wouldn't be here. We're playing each other in Bobby's town down here in Phoenix. Kind of funny how it comes full circle."

Dan Hurley is also excited to compete against his friend on such a monumental stage. He complimented Oats on an impressive season, but all's fair in the Final Four.

"Somebody that I really care about is going to play for a national championship, preferably me," Dan Hurley said. "I also care about Nate, too, to a much lesser degree."

Years before facing his friend, Oats was an assistant coach under Bobby Hurley at Buffalo. Bobby Hurley, the then first-time coach, led the Bulls to a winning record in his first season before taking the team to the NCAA Tournament the following year.

Oats was named the team's interim head coach when Bobby Hurley left for ASU and eventually earned the full-time gig. After taking Buffalo to three NCAA Tournaments, Oats earned the Alabama job in 2019. Down South, he's led the Crimson Tide to five straight winning seasons and four NCAA Tournaments. 

It’s been nearly a decade since the two head coaches worked together, but the pair have stayed in touch. Bobby Hurley said Oats is a natural leader and is impressed by his success at Buffalo and Alabama.

"Just how Nate ran his practices, it was high-level stuff, he really had a lot of intensity," Bobby Hurley said. "The practice had great structure. You could just tell that he was a gifted coach."

O brother, where art thou?

The Hurley family is royalty in the world of college basketball. Bob Hurley, the family patriarch, coached for over four decades at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, New Jersey, and is a Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame inductee.

Bob Hurley's two boys were stars at St. Anthony before playing in college and earning their first coaching jobs. Dan Hurley ascended through the coaching world to become UConn's head coach and led the Huskies to their fifth national championship last season. Now, he appreciates his brother's hospitality in Arizona and joked that he has a man on the inside to help the Huskies win.

"Obviously, the time I'll spend with him the next couple of days, him sabotaging these other programs for me at his site there, is going to give me a distinct advantage, too, which I appreciate from big bro," Dan Hurley said.

Dan Hurley's meteoric rise to the top of college basketball is a full-circle moment for his brother. Bobby Hurley said it's amazing that he, his brother and Oats all got their start as high school stars who rose to become head coaches of Division I teams.

"It should give inspiration to a lot of young coaches out there (who) are trying to grow and develop and dream about one day having the opportunity to do something special like my brother and Nate Oats will do," Bobby Hurley said.

Bobby Hurley wants another date to the Big Dance

Bobby Hurley is no stranger to the bright lights of March Madness. During his playing days at Duke, he won back-to-back national titles in 1991 and 1992. His Final Four heroics even led to his No. 11 being retired at Duke.

"Winning our first championship and standing on that podium, there's no greater feeling than that," Bobby Hurley said. "The next year, the Fab Five, and all the hoopla around that and going back to back, there were a number of great moments that I'll remember the rest of my life."

Bobby knows better than most that a trip to the Final Four can be a life-changing experience. Yet, there's a long uphill battle ahead for ASU to be competitive in the Big 12 Conference and an even more arduous journey toward a Final Four appearance by his Sun Devils.

Still, the ASU coach will do everything possible to replicate his younger brother’s success.

"Certainly, trying to get to that point is something that is a dream for anybody in my position that does what I do," Bobby Hurley said. "I’m going to be as hungry as I can to try and do that at some point in my career."

Edited by Alfred Smith III, Walker Smith and Caera Learmonth.

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