This is my first season serving as an assistant with Coach Bobby Hurley Sr., one of the most successful high school basketball coaches in the history of the game.
Coach Hurley, the head coach at St. Anthony’s High School in Jersey City, NJ for the last 43 seasons, is one of only three high school coaches who have been inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. (Coach Morgan Wootten is one of the other two.)
Here are some observations about the way he manages his team that I provide in case it is helpful to other coaches.
- Coaching Physical Play
I’ve coached at the professional as well as the high school level – and I have attended hundreds of college hoops practices – but I was surprised by the amount of contact that is considered normal at a St. Anthony’s practice.
Fouls are rarely called. Out of bounds is often ignored. I have never seen Coach Hurley whistle a play dead for a jump ball.
A guard attacking the basket in a break during a scrimmage is often slapped multiple times and sometimes all but tackled on the way to the basket.
I have never seen a player complain, or retaliate, no matter how hard the foul.
“It’s in our DNA,” a longtime assistant explained to me.
No fights? I asked.
“They know that even a half-second of that kind of nonsense and they will get thrown out of the gym – maybe for good,” the coach said.
The result is players are ready for bad calls or no calls. They are ready to scramble after a loose ball. I’ve never seen pushing, shoving or even the threat of a fight. Being physical is always a part of the game.
- All In
In Jay Bilas’ book “Toughness: Developing True Strength On and Off the Court,” Bilas explains that often being tough means choosing “a hard right” over “an easy wrong.”
There are dozens of basketball situations where this applies: taking a charge instead of swiping at the ball and getting out of the way; attacking the basket instead of settling for a jumper etc.
Coach Hurley is always quick to point out instances where his players choose an easy path. “Are you kidding me?” he often says in his booming voice, after witnessing poor play.
And he does not shy away from expressing hard truths.
Jagan Mosely, a Georgetown University commit and arguably the team’s best player, is treated exactly the same as any of the other players on the team.
Everyone in the program is expected to be accountable to the cheer the team yells as they break huddles: “all in, all in, all in.”
Indeed Coach Hurley will call out guys who don’t enthusiastically break huddle. “Does your third one sort of taper off?” he asked one player recently, referring to the enthusiasm with which he yells “all in!” “What does that say about your commitment level?”
“You always know exactly where you stand with coach,” one of the players told me.
At 68 it would be understandable if he took it a little bit easy.
But when he is in the gym, he is always coaching – never taking the easy path.
(3) Helping Players Understand What It Takes
“My experience is that kids might not outwardly show it, but they want someone in their lives who pushes them to go places they might not have even thought possible,” Jeremy Edwards the longtime director of SportsChallenge, a sports leadership program told me.
It takes time for some of the younger players to get used to the way Coach Hurley pushes them.
They have never been in a situation where the coach calls them out for standing at the back of the group when he is talking.
“Are you a sit-in-the-back-of-the-class guy?” he booms. (“That’s rhetorical!” he shouts if one of the players makes the mistake of trying to answer.)
“This is not for everyone,” one of the assistant coaches told me with a smile before a 9 AM Sunday morning practice.
Many of the players have never worked so hard at anything in their lives. They are learning what it means to be “all in, all in, all in.”
And like so many of Coach Hurley’s teams the team has been successful – posting a 30-0 record.
The hope, as Coach Hurley often says, is that the team will not just win a State Championship. But more than that the hope is that they will learn what sort of success they can enjoy when they truly go all in.
David Danzig is an assistant with the St. Anthony Friars. He previously served as an assistant with the MHP Riesen, a first league pro basketball team in Germany