Since the 1990s, UConn men's basketball fans have grown accustomed to a consistent level of success. Legendary coach Jim Calhoun won over 600 games in 26 seasons at Connecticut, coaching stars like Ray Allen, Rudy Gay, and Kemba Walker to the highest of highs. Since 1999, the Huskies have reached the Final Four six times, winning four national titles. They are a modern day blue blood.
And yet, following an improbable run to the 2014 title as a No. 7 seed, the Huskies found themselves in unfamiliar territory in recent years: at home in March. They missed the tournament 4 out of 5 years in the latter half of the last decade. Instead of competing in the vaunted Big East, they were struggling against the likes of SMU and Tulsa - not exactly basketball powerhouses.
Enter Dan Hurley.
When Hurley took over the UConn job in 2018, the program was a husk of its former self. After a few years of Hurley recruiting and installing his aggressive, winning culture, the Huskies qualified for the NCAA Tournament in March of 2021.
Now, Hurley's Huskies are in the Final Four for the first time since 2014.
When Dan Hurley takes the sidelines Saturday night in Houston, it will be the culmination of a journey more than 30 years in the making for the Connecticut head coach. From Jersey City, New Jersey to Storrs, Connecticut, Hurley has been a mainstay in northeastern basketball circles. The one constant at every stop? Hurley's teams win, usually more than they did the season before.
New Jersey Basketball Royalty
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Dan Hurley is from the first family of New Jersey basketball. His older brother Bobby Hurley was an All-American point guard for Duke in the early 90s, shepherding Mike Krzyzewski's Blue Devils to back-to-back national championships. He was a top 10 pick in the NBA Draft, though his playing career was upended by a near fatal car crash in his rookie season.
The patriarch of the Hurley basketball empire is Danny and Bobby's father, Bob Hurley Sr. The elder Hurley is enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame for his long and storied career at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City. Hurley turned a tiny school without a gym on campus into a powerhouse basketball program respected across the nation. Hurley Sr.'s teams won 28 New Jersey state titles. He created a culture of accountability and winning at a small school in a rough neighborhood.
So it may come as no surprise that both Hurleys followed in their father's footsteps into coaching.
For Dan, the transition from the court to the sidelines happened while he was still playing at Seton Hall. Danny Hurley, as he called then, was a starting point guard for the Seton Hall Pirates in New Jersey. But his entire career was overshadowed by the All-American exploits of his older brother Bobby. They even faced off against each other in the 1992 NCAA Tournament, guarding each for stretches in a game Duke would eventually win.
As chronicled by The Athletic's Brendan Quinn, Hurley took a personal leave from the Seton Hall team in 1993, trying to get away from basketball for a bit to clear his head. Unfortunately, that break coincided with a health episode that left Bob Sr. unable to coach for a bit. The most logical person to step in Hurley's place? His youngest son, Danny.
The fit was instantaneous. In teaching the game to high school kids, Hurley rediscovered his love for basketball, and figured out his future.
After graduating from Seton Hall, Hurley immediately began pursuing a coaching career. He joined the Rutgers coaching staff as an assistant in 1997 before jumping to a head coaching position at St. Benedict's Prep in Newark, New Jersey.
While at St. Benedict's, Hurley coached top talent from the northeast and beyond, including future college golf star JR Smith. Hurley stayed at the high school for nearly a decade, earning accolades and developing a number of Division I athletes while at St. Benedict's.
Wagner, URI and UConn
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In 2010, Hurley finally left the state of New Jersey, expanding his horizons all the way across the Hudson Bay to Wagner College on Staten Island.
At Wagner, Hurley very quickly turned around a pretty bad Seahawks program. His team improved from 13-17 in Hurley's first season to 25-6 in his second. While they lost in the semifinals of the Northeast Conference Tournament and failed to earn a NCAA Tournament bid, Hurley had proved his mettle at the college level.
He accepted an offer to leave the NEC, and the tri-state area, and jumped to the University of Rhode Island in 2012. The URI program was in shambles when Hurley arrived there. After a string of success in the late 90s and a decade of respectable mediocrity in the early aughts, Hurley inherited a team that won only 7 games in the 2011-2012 season.
The turnaround at URI was not immediate, as the Rams won just 8 games in Hurley's first season. But those win totals kept creeping up year after year, and eventually URI found its way back into the NCAA Tournament in 2017 and 2018.
Hurley's URI teams played with a toughness and determination that was an obvious reflection of their coach. The former point guard's sideline antics became part of the attraction for the basketball-crazy Rams fans who fled to the Ryan Center to see their first place team. Hurley on the sidelines is not simply a yeller - he is a performance artist. He alternates between firing up his team, pleading his case to the refs, firing up the crowd, and just generally yelling.
After finding success in the Atlantic 10, Hurley was hired by another once proud program on a downswing - the Connecticut Huskies.
At UConn, the Dan Hurley tradition of turning a program around has continued. When he started in Storrs, the Huskies went just 16-17 in the 2018-2019 season. But by his third season, which happened to coincide with UConn's return to the Big East, the Huskies were back in the NCAA Tournament at the end of the season.
Hurley and UConn feels like a perfect match. In many ways, it feels like Hurley was destined to coach in the Big East. Growing up in New Jersey and playing at Seton Hall, the tough, hard-nosed brand of Big East basketball is a part of Hurley's DNA. He thrives under the pressure, and his teams seem to match his intensity.
This weekend we'll find out how the Huskies hold up under the brightest of lights. Either way, you know Hurley will be fired up on the sidelines.
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