STORRS, Conn. — Dan Hurley is a better comedian than his older brother, Bobby. This much Bobby readily admits.
“Dan’s got a better sense of humor than me,” he acknowledged. “He’s funnier, more quick-witted.”
Indeed, while Dan’s sense of humor can sometimes border on dad-jokey (“Knock on wood,” he likes to say, while tapping his knuckles to his head), it can also be clever and biting. When he remarked this summer on how well Alterique Gilbert was shooting the ball, despite a recent third shoulder surgery, he added: “Maybe the surgeon helped him with his shooting mechanics. A couple of other [players] should go see him.”
Bobby, an All-American point guard at Duke who helped lead the Blue Devils to consecutive national championships in 1991 and 1992, had the edge on the basketball floor. He was an NBA lottery pick before a terrible car accident derailed his pro career.
Dan had a mercurial career at Seton Hall, even quitting the game at one point thanks in no small part to the shadow cast by his more famous brother. And though he wound up scoring over 1,000 points in what he calls “the real Big East” (there’s that sarcastic wit again), Dan never played professionally.
“I always thought [Dan] was more talented than Bobby,” according to George Blaney, the former longtime UConn assistant who coached Dan his final two years at Seton Hall. “Bobby just worked harder at his game. But Danny was a terrific player: good scorer, he could pass, score it deep, he could defend because he was long and quick. I loved him as a basketball player. Still do.”
Who’s the better coach? That’s an unfinished script. Dan, now in his first year as UConn’s head man, has rebuilt a pair of reeling college programs — Wagner and Rhode Island — over the past eight years. And his best job may have come before that, turning St. Benedict’s Prep from a run-of-the-mill high school program in a poor section of Newark, N.J. into a powerhouse that churned out future pros like J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson and Lance Thomas.
Bobby’s been no slouch, either, leading Buffalo to the NCAA tournament in 2015 before leaving for Arizona State, where he led the Sun Devils to their highest ranking in school history (No. 3) last season and brought them to the NCAA tourney, as well.
Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. There’s no real sibling rivalry between the two. At least not anymore.
Oh, there used to be. These were two of the most competitive people in college basketball. Still are — just not against each other. Bobby can’t remember the last time the two were opponents on a basketball court.
“We don’t even have the urge to do H-O-R-S-E,” Bobby said. “We competed so much against each other so much, more than anyone, I think we got it all out of our system at an early age.”
So don’t expect Arizona State and UConn to meet anytime soon. Dan says he’d be OK with it, as long as it’s for a good cause, like the Never Forget Tribute Classic, in which UConn will face Florida State on Dec. 8 in Newark. But Bobby’s not so sure.
“I wouldn’t, unless I had to, if we were both fortunate enough to be in the NCAA tournament,” he said. “We don’t take losses too well. We care about each other too much.”
That’s one thing they’ve always done equally.
Perspective and Respect
Dan Hurley’s first few years at Seton Hall were a struggle — on and off the floor. He had trouble fitting into P.J. Carlesimo’s offense, put up poor numbers and felt overwhelmed by the shadow cast by Bobby.
“There were unfair comparisons,” said the Hurleys’ dad, Bob, Sr., a Hall of Fame high school coach at St. Anthony’s in Jersey City, N.J. “Bobby’s playing in a wide-open system at Duke. The coach is giving him the ball, saying, ‘Make your mistakes, you’re my guy.’ Danny was in a very different system. The point guard didn’t have the same freedom. There was a lot of scrutiny, and it was rough. When you play close to home you can’t avoid it. It’s there all the time.”
Dan started drinking too much. Not quite day-of-the-game drinking … though not far from it. One night he hit the bars with his friends until about 2 a.m., then played Ohio State on national television at noon.
“I kind of lost my mind a little bit,” Dan recalled. “I wasn’t playing well, I’d always had a little bit of a rebellious thing about me, too. So, my way of dealing with my failure was: go out, drink, stay out late and act like a crazy college kid.”
It all came to a head his junior year. On Dec. 4, 1993, it was a Hurley doubleheader at Madison Square Garden. Bobby, the No. 5 overall selection that June by Sacramento, was in town for an afternoon game against the Knicks. Later that night, Seton Hall opened its Big East slate against St. John’s.
Both Hurleys played poorly, but Dan (0-for-6) took it hardest. He wanted — needed — to get away from basketball. And there was only one person he could tell. Not his mother or father, his coach or teammates. Just Bobby.
The two met in Manhattan later that night.
“I really just met him to say to him, ‘Hey, I’m checking out of this basketball thing for at least a little bit,'” Dan recalled. “I felt like I had to get clearance from him to quit, to try to get myself better.”
He got it.
“I thought he made a very mature decision,” Bobby said. “We talked for a long time that night. We relied on each other a lot. We’ve always been there for each other most of our lives … I had his back.”
Dan went underground for a couple of days, hiding in his dorm room (his roommate was home on holiday break), skipping practices and keeping out of contact with everyone, including his parents. Only Bobby knew where he was.
“I was in a very deep, dark depression,” Dan recalled. “I didn’t know if I was ever gonna leave the room.”
He wasn’t suicidal, he just didn’t want to face anyone, feeling ashamed, “useless, worthless.”
“My brother’s at Duke, then in the NBA making millions, and I literally can’t make a basket,” he remembered. “My grades weren’t good, my life had no balance. It was like, every leg on the table was wobbly or broken.”
Barely a week later, Bobby was involved in a horrific, near-fatal car accident. He suffered a severed trachea, two collapsed lungs and a small fracture in his back, among other injuries. He was lucky to have survived.
Suddenly, perspective hit Dan Hurley like a hard ball-screen.
“I was in a good position in life,” he recalled, “but I was ungrateful and had no perspective. Bob’s accident helped me with that.”
Dan redshirted that year, but played well his final two seasons at Seton Hall. He had a chance to play overseas but opted out at the last minute, got married at 24 and embarked on a coaching odyssey that started for a season under his dad at St. Anthony’s, then three years as an assistant at Rutgers before turning around St. Benedict’s, Wagner and URI. Bobby was Dan’s assistant for two years at Wagner and one at URI.
“I was lucky to have worked with him,” Bobby said. “I got to sit in the office with him, spend more time together, as brothers would, talking about the team. Some of those recruiting meetings weren’t that fun, when we missed on a kid or when things weren’t going well. But for the most part, it was an unbelievable time. I learned from Dan, to see how he ran a practice, how he guided his team through the season. I paid attention to the things he was doing.”
Bobby Hurley, who cast such a shadow on Dan for so many years, was now learning from his younger brother.
“I think the world of Dan’s coaching ability, his mind for the game, what he’s been exposed to, basketball-wise,” Bobby added. “I learned a tremendous amount in my three years working for Dan as an assistant. He really prepared me to become a head coach. He knows how to practice hard, he works on things that completely make sense and finds ways to connect with players.
“I think he’s an elite coach. As good as anybody.”
This article is written by David Borges from New Haven Register, Conn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].