Special to ESPN Book Club
The following is excerpted from "The Miracle of St. Anthony: A Season with Coach Bob Hurley and Basketball's Most Improbable Dynasty" by Adrian Wojnarowski. Copyright (c) 2005 by Adrian Wojnarowski. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Group USA/Gotham Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Editor's note: Adrian Wojnarowski is a contributor to ESPN.com.
Bob Hurley Sr. stayed on the mean streets of Jersey City, N.J., so his players at tiny, poor St. Anthony High School could get out. The best high school basketball coach in America stayed with Sister Felicia and Sister Alan so that an 87-year-old brick schoolhouse would never go broke and close its doors.
Hurley worked the forlorn city's broken-down neighborhoods and housing projects for 30 years as a probation officer, turning down college jobs through the years. He is the old-school coach with a .900 career winning percentage, 22 state championships, two mythical national championships -- and never a gymnasium to call St. Anthony's own.
Author Adrian Wojnarowski had an all-access pass to follow Hurley and his team during the 2003-04 season. With what Hurley called the "most dysfunctional group of players" he's had in 31 years testing his resolve, this wayward St. Anthony team would ultimately serve to remind Hurley why he was still needed in high school basketball.
And why he never left little St. Anthony.
After a lethargic victory over Elizabeth High School in mid-February of 2004, here was Hurley walking into his team's locker room at a moment when he feared his players' real-world demons were coming back to haunt them -- at a moment Bob Hurley felt like he was reaching out to save them from the streets one more time.
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After the final buzzer, the Elizabeth High School players wouldn't stop tugging at Bob Hurley's heart. One by one, they shook his hand, called him "Mr. Hurley," and told him it was an honor to compete against St. Anthony. Wonderful. The St. Anthony kids must have been wondering why the Elizabeth players didn't bring Hurley an apple, too.
As the coaches passed, Hurley told Elizabeth's coach Donnie Stewart this had been the first time all season that an opposing team had played harder than his own. Once Elizabeth returned to its locker room, Stewart told his players what Hurley had said, and everyone cheered. Elizabeth had lost by nineteen points, suffered through twenty-three straight St. Anthony points, and Stewart told his kids he had never been prouder of them.
Without a word, next door, the St. Anthony players sat on the benches and floor in the cramped locker room, waiting for the assistants and Hurley to file in and close the door behind them. It wasn't long before Hurley stood before them, tapping the toe of his right shoe and saying nothing. His eyes darted from player to player.
The kids would've rather stared back into an eclipse than into those rabid eyes.
"You are who you are," Hurley finally said. "These are the personality and character flaws of this entire group. When this season is done, we'll go back to the one simple thing: If this ends up anything short of a state championship, you're just going to be a bunch of people that all the adults will remember as the worst class in St. Anthony history.
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"I have never been around more poorly individually motivated people. Ever. This reminds me of what juvenile probation used to look like on Thursdays up at the county building, where guys would just drag their ass in.
"What happened today was very simple: They got into (Derrick) Mercer's chest. And (Ahmad) Mosby's chest. And (Sean) McCurdy's chest. And what happened? Everybody went, 'Ohhhhh nooooo, one of those games.' They couldn't wait to come here and play us.
"And who are you? You're the willing victim. You stand there and you let people get in your face. My prayers are for your families. When you leave this place, the structure that it gives you, how many of you can handle this tough world? My blessings. I hope it works out for you all. But I have real strong reservations of nearly every one of you, because when you have obstacles in your path -- academic, social, athletic, emotional -- you will not have the mental toughness, the self-discipline, the passion, to overcome it."