Well before the 2010-11 season beckoned, Bob Hurley Sr., already owned a permanent and rightful place in basketball history. By any set of standards, the legendary bench boss at St. Anthony (Jersey City, N.J.)
already saw it all, did it all and inspired countless teenagers through the game and life lessons he has so selflessly taught through the years.
But then, in his 39th season, Hurley might have enjoyed his most distinguished one of all.
It all started in Springfield, Mass., last August when he became the third high school coach inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who coached Hurley's oldest son and offered the ultimate compliment beforehand.
"Of all the people going in today, you are the most deserving," Hurley recalled his friend saying. "It's not about being a high school coach, it's about being a great coach. And that's what you are."
From there, Hurley enjoyed a 2010-11 season full of rich and satisfying firsts that might have made this his best year yet.
After his Hall of Fame induction, he won his 1,000th game in Jersey City on Feb. 2, inspiring specially-made posters and sneakers from Reebok commemorating this slice of history.
A little more than a month later, he pushed his Friars past then-No. 1 St. Patrick (Elizabeth)
before more than 8,000 fans at Rutgers University in one of the nation's biggest high school games ever.
When St. Anthony (33-0) outpointed Plainfield
in the New Jersey Tournament of Champions final March 21, Hurley and his Friars earned their fourth mythical national championship – and fourth in as many decades, joining national No. 1 teams in 1989, 1996 and 2008.
"It's hard at a school that's been very successful to compare whether you like a BMW or a Mercedes," Hurley said. "These are all unique great accomplishments."
But this set of accomplishments came under different circumstances than those in previous championship seasons, which is among the many reasons Hurley is the MaxPreps Coach of the Year.
The addition of Kyle Anderson
and Myles Mack
, who were forced to find a new home after the doors closed at Paterson Catholic
, helped the Friars earn a No. 6 national preseason ranking, rival St. Patrick was threatening to overtake St. Anthony as the Garden State's top program. The new challenge seemed to energize the 63-year-old coach.
"The greatest thing about my dad ... he's always on his toes, he never gets caught off guard," said youngest son Dan Hurley, the head coach at Wagner College. "He's always prepared."
By mid-January, however, the other teams listed above them added losses to their ledgers. Not the Friars, who quickly ascended to No. 2 nationally after an incredibly-dominant 75-25 victory over DeMatha (Hyattsville, Md.)
at the Spalding Hoophall Classic.
"We were kind of a sneaky No. 2," Hurley said. "It's kind of weird that people don't perceive you to be that good."
But St. Anthony was that good – "We got better and better each month," Hurley noted.
Around the Garden State, everyone saw the same. It only heightened anticipation for a potential battle between the Friars and perennial nemesis St. Patrick in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association North Non-Public B final – a battle of the nation's top-two teams that came in a state sectional final. It sold out the Rutgers Athletic Center hours before the opening tip.
Before 60 Minutes' Steve Kroft and an accompanying camera crew, Kentucky head coach John Calipari and 8,000-plus curious onlookers, Hurley's coaching helped St. Anthony survive a nine-point deficit in the early going and a 40-39 deficit entering the final quarter before a 23-5 surge offered a surprising and emphatic answer about who was No. 1.
Afterward, the Hall of Famer playfully chided reporters for picking against his Friars, while his players at the post-game press conference hung on each of his soundbites. As much as Hurley prides himself as a tough taskmaster, there is a reason Mack chose a commute from Paterson into downtown Jersey City every morning.
"He just cares about everybody," the Rutgers-bound point guard said. "He wants everybody to get better."
Everyone on this year's roster did – from Anderson to Mack to Lucious "Lucky" Jones
, who emerged from Hurley's doghouse to play terrific defense on St. Patrick star Michael Gilchrist
and developed into one of the state's top players. That is the Hurley way, which finally earned him airtime on 60 Minutes.
"I'm a difficult person to work with," Hurley said. "But we can all look at this now and compare this to completing hell week as a Navy SEAL. They just completed something. They've done something. They can walk up to (former St. Anthony star) Jerry Walker, they can walk up to David Rivers, they can walk up to anybody and have street cred for what they just did."
After 39 seasons of stalking the St. Anthony sideline, Hurley's legacy and street cred have already been secured. He will coach for a few more seasons, at least, telling parents at St. Anthony at open houses he will continue his quest toward 1,100 victories while teaching their children some of their greatest lessons.
There will likely be more memorable winters at St. Anthony, but none quite like this one. All these years later, Bob Hurley Sr., might have enjoyed his finest season of them all.