Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hurley Era Begins At Rhode Island

Rhode Island athletic director Thorr Bjorn introduces Dan Hurley yesterday as Rams' new head coach following brief success in two-year tenure at Wagner.  (Photo courtesy of Providence Journal)

For the second time in as many years, a new era in basketball has begun in the state of Rhode Island.

Almost a year to the day in which in-state rival Providence welcomed Ed Cooley back home following a five-year stint at Fairfield University in which he transformed the Stags from a MAAC doormat to the class of the conference, Rhode Island made a coaching change of their own by hiring Dan Hurley away from Wagner College on Staten Island yesterday.  Hurley, who guided the Seahawks to a school record 25-win season this past year; replaces Jim Baron, who was dismissed after going 7-24 with the Rams in a campaign marked by the struggle to replace leading scorer Jamal Wilson after he left the team in December.

"When a special opportunity comes along like URI, you're going to go for it," said Hurley shortly after being introduced as the 19th coach of a program that has not been to an NCAA Tournament since their run to a regional final in 1999 behind former UCLA coach Jim Harrick and future NBA star Lamar Odom.  "It just became really appealing and something we're excited about.  It's been done here at a high level, and it's going to be done again at a high level very quickly."

Despite having turned just 39 in January, Hurley has been a winner throughout his coaching career; from his nine-year tenure at St. Benedict's Prep, where he developed future NBA talent the likes of J.R. Smith and Samardo Samuels, to his 38-23 record in just two seasons at Wagner, where he inherited a team that finished 5-26 in their last season under former coach Mike Deane.  Hurley's older brother Bobby, who was the point guard on Mike Krzyzewski's two national championship teams at Duke in the early 1990s before joining Dan as his top assistant coach at Wagner, will take his talents to the Ocean State as well.

The new coach wasted little time emphasizing his vision for resurrecting a program that was once the class of the Atlantic 10.  "We want to be real aggressive and attacking at both ends of the court," Hurley said.  "I think it's something the kids will embrace.  Our culture is going to be established quickly in terms of doing the right things, and no one will work harder.  We have every intention of delivering sooner rather than later."

Hurley inherits a roster that graduates just two seniors; but could also lose guard Billy Baron, who is expected to seek a waiver that will allow him to transfer and play immediately, especially if his father and former coach Jim becomes the new head coach at Canisius, a vacancy he is expected to fill.  Rhode Island also brings back leading rebounder Jonathan Holton, who returns for his sophomore season next year; as well as Serbian sharpshooter Nikola Malesevic, who missed eight games in the middle of the season with a broken hand before recovering late in the season.

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