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."
It had stayed with him the way the Elizabeth kids went out of their way to show him respect after the game, the way they showed the game itself respect with how they competed against St. Anthony. They weren't good enough to beat the Friars. They didn't have enough talent. Still, they had wanted to play that game against St. Anthony far more than his kids had wanted to play them.
"I'm afraid to even ask this, but does anyone even know the name of the Elizabeth coach?
"Lamar, what's the coach's name at Seton Hall Prep?"
"Barney, what's the coach's name at Seton Hall Prep?"
"Ahmad Nivins, what's the coach at Seton Hall's name?"
Another blank stare.
"Bob Farrell is the coach of Seton Hall Prep. He's coached in the McDonald's All-American game. He's won state championships. He's had Brevin Knight in the NBA. You must never read a newspaper. Part of having SAT scores that are very, very low is that you don't even read the sports page."
Hurley grabbed a chair from the showers, and sat down. This told the team everything that it feared. They weren't leaving soon. This wasn't ending, but just beginning.
"I have contempt," Hurley started again. "I have nothing but contempt for you all. You make me sick. You have no passion. You're not going to make it. You're such a sorry-ass bunch. I can say to you that the state championship is a month and a day away, and know what you can do?
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"Go back to your miserable existence.
"Go back to not caring.
"Go back to being cool.
"My frustration is this: I would just love to beat your ass. Because somebody should've beat your ass growing up. I got my ass beat a bunch of times. I came from a very good generation, and if I did something to embarrass my father, he kicked the (crap) out of me.
"And what did I learn? Well, I learned first that I didn't like getting the (crap) kicked out of me. And the second thing I learned as I got older, never would I want to do something to embarrass my dad. Because he was a hero of mine.
"A hero of mine.
"I think of the families here, and they must come home and their heads must be spinning. I look around here and I want somebody to go out and accomplish something. Go out and every day get away from the crowd and be your own person. But it can't happen. Because you're a bunch of miserable adolescents. You look for somebody to tell you, 'Ah, that's OK ... You've got car keys and a steady girlfriend, but you've got no SAT scores and no grades and no (bleeping) future.
"Now, teams are coming into our building and they want to get us. They want us here. So, go ahead, read your press clippings. But at least give the sport the respect to know who's in it."
His rage dissolved into a long, exhausted groan. For Hurley, the complete disconnect between his players -- between a generation of kids like them and the world in which they competed -- was symptomatic of a greater disregard. He believed that for most of his players, basketball wasn't God. It was video games and cell phones and mindless television shows and it broke his heart. It killed him.
It always got back to the fact that they just didn't love the game the way he did. Didn't respect those in it. He couldn't get over that. He would never get over that.
How could they not spend the day as nervous as him?
How could they not devour the morning sports page?
How could the No. 1 team in New Jersey not know the name of Bob Farrell, the coach of the second-ranked team in the state?
"This is such a different city now," Hurley was saying now. "I wore a letter sweater when I was a kid in Jersey City. You wore the amount of stripes for your varsity year. Like Marcus Williams would have four stripes on his sweater. That was a big deal. Now, if you've got four chains around your neck, it's a big deal. Those guys used to come in and see me in probation. I used to laugh at those guys. It's called chump change in life. You settle for one thing. You've got it now. And you spend most of your life in jail.
"A very good friend of mine is in jail; a kid who Ben and I tried to counsel before he went away. He made a huge mistake in his adult life. I keep taking books that I want him to read so that he has something to do while he's in prison.
"Do you all understand that there are people all over the place who made just one decision. Just one decision in life ...
"God, we must have these kinds of discussions three times a week now."
Hurley breathed into his lungs now, and let loose with something that was as much a plea as it was a command. Somewhere along the way, this had become no longer about a lousy first half, about backing down to Elizabeth, about the way they had played the game. He had six weeks left with his seniors, if they could make it to the Tournament of Champions finals. This was one of those nights when Hurley knew he was the last line of defense for them, the last voice that held the authority -- that probably even cared enough -- to call them out.
His eyes were wide now, his face red, that square jaw jutting toward them.
"I'M TALKING ABOUT AMOUNTING TO SOMETHING. ... SEPARATE YOURSELVES FROM THE (BLEEPING) CROWD. ... BE (BLEEPING) SPECIAL."
The thunder of his voice hit the concrete walls like a freight train, shaking the room and standing the hair on necks at attention.
"You don't even know the names of people. I could tell you the names of the high school coaches in Jersey City in 1965. At Lincoln High School, John Ryan. At Bayonne High School, Bernie Ockene. Lou Campanelli at Marist High School. Tony Nicodemo at Ferris. At Snyder, Al Ardizone. At Dickinson, Sam Kaplan. At Memorial, Tony Boccheri.
"I can tell you names of people from forty years ago, because when I grew up, coaches were big. You lazy (bleeps) don't even know the names of coaches."
With one final sweeping measure of the room, Hurley climbed to his feet, spit out "You're all (crap)," and stalked toward the door, leaving the St. Anthony Friars, now 19-0, in a sobered silence.
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Outside the locker room, Sister Alan, the assistant principal and athletic director, was waiting at the scorer's table with an exhausted collection of family, friends and college recruiters. "When these seniors graduate," Hurley snapped, walking past her, "their parents all owe us a cruise."
Around him in the postgame milling, everyone looked a little askew at Hurley. Of course, none of them could've possibly known the reasons why he was still rattling off the names of high school basketball coaches from the 1960s. He just stood there, mumbling, "St. Michael's, Union City, Mike Rubinaci ... Bill Kuchar at St. Mary's ... Bob O'Connor at St. Al's ... They were the coaches when I was a kid. I mean, I knew the jayvee coaches' names."
Soon, everyone cleared out of the gym. Through the front doors and into the parking lot, Chris [Hurley's wife] had convinced her husband to grab a burger and keep the postgame P.J. Ryan's pub streak alive for the season. Walking to the car, the wind whipping snow past his face, Robert Patrick Hurley's voice remained the most relentless in the Jersey City night.
"... Hank Morano was at Emerson. Bill McKeever, Union Hill. Matt Sabello, North Bergen ..."
Over a burger and fries, Chris Hurley would be treated to a roll call of every high school coach in Newark in the 1960s. And after that, he worked his way down to the Jersey Shore.
"They don't know the name of one coach on our schedule," he said, shaking his head between bites.
Maybe Hurley should listen to his sons, Bobby and Danny, and take the St. John's job.
After all, the kids in the Big East know who Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun are.