The blizzard had subsided enough for me to make my way down to Madison Square Garden for the 1993 Big East title game between Seton Hall and Syracuse.
There wasn't much to cheer about for my school that day, though, as the Orangemen were on probation, and ended their season with a 103-70 drubbing at the hands of a loaded Pirates team that featured Terry Dehere, the giant Luther Wright, and Arturas Karnisovas. As the game got out of hand, and our frustrations grew, we started to take them out on the young point guard Seton Hall had, a kid by the name of Danny Hurley.
As you probably know, it was the name that was everything. If it had been Danny Smith, for instance, we wouldn't have probably paid much mind. But the "Hurley" on the back of the jersey may as well have been a bull's eye. Older brother Bobby had just won back-to-back national titles at Duke, named MVP of the Final Four in 1992. To this day, he is still the all-time assist leader in NCAA history. His father, Bob, was perhaps the most legendary high school coach in the nation.
Danny was the little brother.
On this day, with the Pirates rolling to a championship, I'm sure Danny wasn't bothered too much by the hecklers, or the comparisons (no matter how crude), especially coming from the opposition.
What would get to Danny in the coming months, though, with Dehere and Wright no longer in the picture, and the spotlight - fairly or unfairly - squarely on him, was the people that were supposed to be impartial, the media, and the home fans who were supposed to have his back when things got tough.
Two games into his junior season, Hurley disappeared and didn't come back that year. I next saw him at the Carrier Dome the next January. I'd like to tell you that I didn't join in on the ribbing of him, but I can't. Rumors of alcoholism and other things (regardless of the validity) followed him around, and I laughed as everyone tried to one-up the kid next to them with the cruelest joke.
Although his team was never as good as they were in 1993, Hurley had a solid career at Seton Hall, but - as he was probably told every time he stepped on a basketball court - he wasn't quite as good as his brother, and wasn't going to have an NBA future.
Upon getting older (I was going to add wiser, but not really), you think back upon the things you said and the things you did, and you wonder why it was so easy to hurl verbal javelins at a young man like Hurley (and similar things to someone like Allen Iverson - who was playing for rival Georgetown at the time). Was it an attempt to make me feel better about myself? Was it just a way to fit in with the crowd? Enough psychoanalysis for one day, but it's safe to say a combination of both and some other things.
Hurley is approximately the same age as me, and I've watched his resurgence from afar with interest and admiration. You look at the trials and tribulations of your own life, and thank God that it wasn't played out in a public forum. Hurley was a tremendously successful high school coach at St. Benedict's (although in different circumstances than his father), and - after turning down Marist - decided that Wagner was the place to break into the college ranks.
He had to know the scrutiny would come back, had to know he was back in the public eye. In another twist, he hired his brother Bobby - who had fallen on some hard times of his own after his basketball career was cut short by a near-fatal car accident and his horse farm in Florida was foreclosed on two years ago - as an assistant.
Of course, back where they belong you could argue, the Hurleys have taken the NEC by storm, albeit not exactly a Nor'easter. Wagner went from five wins in 2009-2010 to 13 in 2010-2011, but this season, looks like a real contender in the conference, picking up an amazing win at Pittsburgh back in December.
I rarely order tickets to a mid-major game well in advance, one of the beauties of what we do. But months ago, I got tickets to Saturday's Quinnipiac-Wagner game, and wanted to get as close to the Wagner bench as possible. I ended up in the second row.
It was an experience I won't soon forget.
There they were in the flesh, the two figures I had so reviled just 15 years ago. Bobby came out first to run the team through warm-ups. He talked with Quinnipiac assistant Scott Burrell, who has his own history of being a big-time player at UConn, before a brief stint in the NBA.
From my seat, you could hear all the interactions between Danny and Bobby. Some of them were familiar to my amateur coaching career, like Danny turning around and asking, "What's his name?" to make sure he didn't call one official by another's name. I've also seen the silent look of disapproval in Bobby's direction when an assignment was missed.
One thing you do get with big name as the coaches and a winning team, though, is a target of sorts on your back. Quinnipiac has underachieved in conference play and Tom Moore and his club knew this was a good chance to right the ship, and the Bobcats played that way, making Hurley's team work for everything. However, all the intensity in the world couldn't help Quinnipiac's shooting and Wagner led 28-25 at the intermission.
But the Bobcats weren't going to stay ice cold forever, and Wagner really had no answer for Ike Azotam and Ousmane Drame down low, who combined for 13 offensive rebounds (the Bobcats had 21 in all). Moore was pumping his fist, the near sell-out crowd (another side-effect of having a big name as coach and a winning record) was rocking, and Quinnipiac had a 41-35 lead midway through the second half.
In an article upon his hire at Wagner, Danny called coaching "the family business," and you could see why as the game drew to a close. You can see the passion, the focus, and the intangibles you see when you watch someone and can just tell they love what they're doing, even if they don't realize it.
It became clear that this was going to be one of those low-scoring physical battles that Danny would have been used to from the old-school Big East, and that every possession was going to count. Azotam's layup (on a putback) with 2:36 left tied the game at 50, and would be the last field goal in the contest.
Of course, no matter who the coach is, it helps to have good players, and with the Hurleys, you know they need a point guard leader. They have one in sophomore Kenneth Ortiz (a transfer from Southern Mississippi), whose stats (six points, three assists, six rebounds) won't jump out at you. But the way he keeps the team calm, the way he plays defense, and the way he stepped up at the end were keys for Wagner on this day.
Ortiz rebounded a miss (Moore was sure he fouled to do it) with 30 seconds left, and was smart enough to dribble back out and hold for one shot. After Hurley used his last time out, Ortiz drew a foul with four seconds remaining and hit the winning free throw as Wagner escaped with a solid, if not terribly attractive, 51-50 road win over a fairly desperate Quinnipiac squad.
(Bobcats fans will point to post presence Jamee Jackson's still being injured and the fact that the starting backcourt of Dave Johnson and James Johnson combined to go 2-for-25 from the field. How much of that was great defense and how much of that was bad offense? That's the age-old question, no?)
The Hurleys shook hands, enjoyed a quick embrace. There were no huge celebrations, it was just another day at the office in the family business.
But sometimes running the family business is what makes you most happy, gives you the most reward. It's what you know, it's what you're best at.
I think back to the kid I saw back at the Carrier Dome, and simultaneously to me. Danny's hair is gray now, mine is missing in parts. Time changes the way we look, the way we feel about things, whether we realize it or not.
Even with the craziness of the contest, Danny looked at ease as he strolled back to the locker room, an ease I don't see much in the mid-major world, especially after a game like that.
There may be a time, maybe sooner than later (especially if Wagner can grab an NCAA Tournament berth), that Danny will be asked to leave our little Mid-majority world and move above the Red Line.
Maybe I'll see him on television in the not-so-near future and some kids from a student section will be trying to get to him with insults more and more vile as the game wears on.
And I'll smile. And, inside, I'm pretty sure he'll be smiling, too.
WAGNER 51, at QUINNIPIAC 50 01/28/2012
WAGNER 17-4 (8-2) -- L. Rivers 3-3 2-2 10; K. Ortiz 2-9 2-4 6; T. Murray 3-9 2-2 9; J. Williams 3-10 1-1 8; J. Thompson 3-5 0-0 6; M. Burton 1-1 0-0 2; M. Moody 1-2 0-0 2; N. Folahan 1-1 2-2 4; O. Parker 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 19-43 9-11 51. QUINNIPIAC 11-10 (4-6) -- J. Johnson 1-13 6-8 8; D. Johnson 1-12 2-2 4; I. Azotam 6-16 3-4 15; Z. Hearst 3-6 2-2 9; G. Young 2-4 0-1 4; O. Drame 2-3 0-2 4; A. Jackson 1-2 2-2 4; E. Conti 0-0 0-0 0; J. Harris 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 17-59 15-21 50.
Three-point goals: WAG 4-5 (T. Murray 1-1; L. Rivers 2-2; J. Williams 1-2), QUIN 1-6 (D. Johnson 0-3; J. Johnson 0-2; Z. Hearst 1-1); Rebounds: WAG 27 (K. Ortiz 6), QUIN 38 (I. Azotam 13); Assists: WAG 8 (K. Ortiz 3), QUIN 5 (D. Johnson 2); Total Fouls -- WAG 23, QUIN 14; Fouled Out: WAG-J. Williams; QUIN-None.