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Hall of Fame coach would trade in all his victories

By Steve Politi, Special to CNN
Bob Hurley Sr. regrets that he didn't reach more inner-city kids who could have benefited from his guidance.
Bob Hurley Sr. regrets that he didn't reach more inner-city kids who could have benefited from his guidance.
  • Bob Hurley Sr. coaches high school basketball in Jersey City, New Jersey
  • Hurley is only the third boys high school coach to be entered into the Basketball Hall of Fame
  • He bypassed collegiate career to make a difference in the lives of inner-city kids
  • His students have gone on to play college hoops, become doctors and businessmen

Editor's note: Steve Politi is a sports columnist for The Star-Ledger in Newark, New Jersey, who has covered Bob Hurley Sr.'s career.

Bob Hurley Sr. is about to hit a milestone few basketball coaches on any level have reached: 1,000 victories.

He has won them the hard way at St. Anthony High in Jersey City, New Jersey, sweeping the hardwood floor before home games and riding yellow buses to cramped gymnasiums up and down the East Coast.

The victories helped make him just the third boys high school coach to earn enshrinement in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. They earned him the respect of some of the highest-profile coaches in the sport, including Mike Krzyzewski at Duke.

But his true legacy is much deeper than the lights on the scoreboard. Hurley said he would trade in those wins -- every last one of them -- for a chance to help more inner-city kids.

"You know what? I would give them up for one more chance with some of the kids I didn't reach over the years," Hurley said. "If I could have a second chance with some of those, it would be worth all the adulation."

Hurley doesn't coach for the attention. If he wanted that, he long ago would have left St. Anthony, a tiny Catholic school a few blocks from the Holland Tunnel, for the arenas and riches of the college game.

He chose to stay in Jersey City, becoming one of the coaching legends in the high school game. Hurley, whose current team is ranked second in the country in an ESPN poll, will likely win his 1,000th game late next week. No one is sure exactly how many losses that includes -- 109 or 110 is the best guess -- but they rarely happen more than once or twice a season.

Still, even with 25 state parochial titles, the victories are a small part of what he has accomplished. Hurley, 63, has been a father figure for hundreds of inner-city teenagers over the past four decades. He has placed nearly all of them in four-year colleges, most on scholarships.

Some are doctors and businessmen now. Others are lawyers and police captains. One owns a popular restaurant in Jersey City and once held a seat on the city's board of education.

Terry Dehere, who went on to play at Seton Hall and in the NBA, could have moved on from his roots. Instead, he moved back to Jersey City, twice renovating his boyhood playground, restoring an abandoned building for low-income housing and hands out 500 turkeys annually each Thanksgiving.

"(Hurley) had a direct effect on a lot of young men's lives growing up in Jersey City," Dehere said. "To have a coach who was dedicated and a taskmaster helped a lot of kids -- and I'm a living testament to it."

Dehere played for Hurley in the late '80s. Two decades later, Mike Rosario was the star of the team, a hot-tempered kid who used basketball as a refuge from the life in a housing project.

"He started disciplining me like I was one of his sons," Rosario said. "It was to the point where I was like, 'Wow, I had never been pushed like this in my life.' I learned how to be a man and not a boy." Rosario now plays college ball at the University of Florida.

Coaching at a place like St. Anthony isn't always a glamorous life, but Hurley has always recognized its importance in the city where he grew up. The school, with just 250 students, boasts a 100% college acceptance rate over the past 18 years, according to its Web site.

Hurley has helped keep the doors open through his fundraising efforts, never making more than a $6,500 stipend for coaching. He worked as a probation officer and then a parks department official before retiring from his day jobs to focus on his team and his grandchildren.

His first victory came on December 8, 1972. It was an impressive debut, a 64-43 win over a team whose coach was ejected in frustration, but there were few signs of a dynasty in the making.

"I remember that like it was yesterday," Hurley said. "You think, 'Wow. It would be nice to do that again.' "

St. Anthony kept winning and winning, and producing college-ready players along the way. That attracted attention from the next level. Finally, in the spring of 1985, he received a phone call from then Xavier coach Pete Gillen with a simple message.

"It's time."

He accepted an offer to become Gillen's top assistant. But then he arrived home to find his three children waiting. Bobby, his oldest son, had written a list of reasons why he had to stay at St. Anthony that left the old man in tears.

"Who's going to be my coach? You're going to be on the road all the time. Are you ever going to see me play?"

So Hurley stayed put. His team with his son at point guard is regarded as one of the best in state history, and when he graduated from St. Anthony, Bobby Hurley helped turn another coach into a legend, too.

Krzyzewski has won four national championships at Duke, including two when Bobby Hurley was his point guard. He was the presenter on August 13 when Hurley Sr. was inducted into the Hall of Fame, standing proudly over his shoulder as the high school lifer joined the most exclusive club.

"Bob has a passion to help young men get the opportunities they would never have gotten unless he and basketball entered their lives," Krzyzewski said. "He should be in the Hall of Fame not for the number of wins, but for the number of lives he's changed."

His induction was not just a victory for Hurley. It was a validation for thousands of high school coaches across the country.

Few will ever get the same recognition. Hurley has been the subject of a best-selling book, "The Miracle of St. Anthony," and an award-winning documentary, "The Street Stops Here."

But in a way, when he stood with NBA stars such as Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone at the induction ceremony, he stood for all the coaches who work at the grassroots level of the sport.

The men and women who not only shape the lives of young people, but sweep the floors before games.

"What we see is the finished product," Malone said before the induction ceremony. "But somewhere along the line, somebody looked at every one of us and said, 'I think I'll give that young man a chance.' Our high school coaches don't get nearly enough credit."