Hurley finds familiar faces in his new AAC basketball family
Philadelphia — UConn's Dan Hurley is new to the American Athletic Conference basketball neighborhood, but hardly a stranger.
The Hurley name is well-known in coaching circles, with his father, Bob Sr., a Hall of Famer, and brother, Bobby, a former Duke player now running the Arizona State program.
East Carolina coach Joe Dooley goes way back with Hurley. Both New Jersey natives, Dooley graduated from St. Benedict's Prep in Newark where Hurley once coached for nine seasons.
As a 24-year-old assistant coach at South Carolina, Dooley recruited Hurley, a tenacious, talented guard at St. Anthony's High School in Jersey City.
"We had him visit," Dooley said. "We thought we were in pretty good position, and then Seton Hall got him, so we were a little ticked off. Obviously, he has a great background. ... I have unbelievable respect for his family."
On Monday, they shared the stage at AAC men's basketball media day. They joined Penny Hardaway of Memphis as new coaches in the conference.
Temple coach Fran Dunphy is another familiar face to Hurley, who used to attend and observe Dunphy's practices at Penn and then Temple.
But his strongest connection is with Dooley.
"Joe Dooley is probably the guy that I have the closest relationship with just because he's really old," Hurley quipped. "He recruited me at South Carolina as an assistant. He played at St. Benedict Prep where I coached in high school. He recruited a bunch of my players when he was at Kansas."
"So me and Joe go way, way back."
While at Rhode Island, Hurley competed against some AAC programs, including Houston and Cincinnati. He also faced Florida Gulf Coast when Dooley coached there.
Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin has seen Hurley's competitive fire from the sidelines. His Bearcats fought off Rhode Island 76-71 at the Mohegan Sun in 2016.
UConn will face Cincinnati twice this season and could possibly meet another time in the conference tournament.
Cronin already is preparing for Hurley not to speak to him weeks before the first game.
"Usually, friends don't talk a week before the game," Cronin said. "Six months rule with Danny. He needs six months. I think he puts warrior paint on. We only played once when he was at Rhode Island, and he went dark on me for six months. We're going to have to work on that because we're going to probably play three times a year."
Hurley smiled when told of Cronin's comments.
"I'm a lot more zen," Hurley said. "I'm pretty relaxed. I would say if the game is at 7, I'm probably good until 5:30. I'm not anxious. I don't lose weight during the season. I'm not a stress ball. When 5:30 comes and it's a 7 o'clock tip, now I become like the Incredible Hulk. Then the paint comes out and I'm just locked in."
Both Cronin and Dooley believe that Hurley will do well at UConn.
Growing up and coaching in the Northeast, Hurley understands the expectations that come with coaching the Huskies. His personality is a good fit, too.
"He's gotten very sarcastic and very witty," Dooley said. "He's very demanding, which is something that will help him. He's got some intensity. After surviving Jersey City, you think he'd be very intense."
Cronin says the trademark of Hurley's teams is they're fundamentally-sound, play hard and play to win. Those traits were missing in UConn the last few seasons under Kevin Ollie, although Hurley does inherit all but three of Ollie's players.
"I just think he's got an interesting job ahead of him because they have lost their defensive mindset," Cronin said. "And that's in spite of having a defensive-minded coach in Kevin. Kevin won a national championship and that's all he talked about was playing hard on the defensive end.
"I played against some of his teams and we couldn't score, especially his team that won it all. We couldn't get the ball near the basket. That's going to be his challenge.
"When I took over (at Cincinnati), I inherited no players. On one hand, it was really hard, but on other hand because I had no players, the guys I brought in I didn't have to deprogram and try to change their DNA. That's the challenge (Hurley) has inheriting some players. Obviously, Kevin was trying to get those guys to defend better and do some things better. So that will be the fight for him."