DAYTON, Ohio – When Arizona State and St. John’s take the floor Wednesday night to determine their NCAA Tournament fate, it won’t be the first time coaches Bobby Hurley and Chris Mullin have squared off.
Although the two coach on opposite sides of the country, they are far from strangers.
Hurley and Mullin were hired 10 days apart in 2015 and made immediate impacts on their programs. Now, the teams’ ascendant paths are converging in a First Four game of the NCAA Tournament.
“Bobby, I met personally at the Dream Team, at the workouts when he was playing for the Select Team,” Mullin said.
In 1992, Hurley – then entering his senior year at Duke – joined a thrown-together squad of eight top college players from across the country in San Diego for a scrimmage. Their opponent? What many consider the greatest basketball team ever assembled: the Dream Team, also known as the 1992 United States men’s Olympic basketball team.
Mullin was a member.
“It was the best week of my life,” Hurley said Tuesday about his time playing against Mullin and the Dream Team. “As a competitor and as a basketball player, you want to face, like, the best players that you can. And they were all in one gym for a week.
“And you got to see, like, what – it kind of elevated me to play the best I’ve ever played in my life just because of how good they were, and how hard I trained to go there because I was scared to death that I was going to get embarrassed. So you really train and get yourself ready. And then all of a sudden you’re right in that game.”
Mullin remembered Hurley by the impact he made that week as a college kid playing against some of the greatest to ever play the game.
“He played great,” Mullin said. “Bobby (was) maybe at the top of the list and really helped his status among NBA executives because he played really, really well against, well, you know who he was playing against.”
He played against a collection of NBA Hall of Famers that included Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Magic Johnson, David Robinson and Patrick Ewing. The college players were a cream-of-the-crop group featuring Michigan’s Chris Webber, Memphis’ Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway and Duke’s Grant Hill. Hill’s teammate ran the point. It was Hurley.
The college standouts played them.
And then beat them.
“And I think they all used that and fueled it when they went back to school or into the draft,” Mullin said. “But (Hurley) was a leader. He was one of those guys that always overachieved, played hard as nails and did whatever it took to win, made his teammates better.”
Although they first met at that memorable Dream Team scrimmage, their lives and legacies have long been intertwined in East Coast basketball culture. Hurley, growing up in New Jersey, admired the older Mullin who was born and raised across the bridge in Brooklyn, and had an illustrious high school and college basketball career in New York City.
Mullin was a state champion at Xaverian High School in Brooklyn, in addition to being named New York state’s “Mr. Basketball,” as well as a McDonald’s All-American. During his playing days at St. John’s, Mullin led his team to four NCAA Tournaments in four years, including a Final Four in 1985, in addition to being named the John R. Wooden Player of the Year for the 1984-85 season.
“I have the utmost respect for Chris and the job he’s done to get St. John’s to the NCAA Tournament, and who he was as a player, a guy I always looked up to when I was growing up in Jersey and he was playing at St. John’s,” Hurley said.
“And then onto the NBA and got a chance to play against him and the Dream Team when I was on the development team,” Hurley continued. “So a lot of good memories with regard to Chris.”
Of course, Hurley was an elite player in his own right. In his four years at Duke, Hurley played a key role in winning back-to-back national championships for the Blue Devils in 1991and ‘92 and added the 1992 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Award in the process.
Now, with their postseason hopes on the line, the focus is on the players they coach and not themselves.
“I just think it’s more about the players,” Hurley said. “For me it’s more about like Zylan Cheatham and Lu Dort getting his first NCAA Tournament experience. And Remy Martin is such a winner, and he wants to play in this event.”
Once again, Arizona State finds itself back in Dayton, Ohio, for a chance to play-in to the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Last year, Arizona State fell short to the Syracuse Orange in the same University of Dayton Arena. This year, the Sun Devils have to win against St. John’s to play another day in the tournament.
The déjà vu scenario of recurring postseason trips to the Midwest even has Hurley mulling an investment in local southern Ohio real estate.
“I’m considering – maybe I should go and meet with a realtor and maybe look to buy a house here because I’m here a couple years now,” Hurley joked. “So I might do that later today if I have time.”
As coaches long removed from their days as college athletes, Hurley and Mullin can’t make the on-court impact that they once did. But, they are confident their players can.
“Send us anywhere,” Hurley said. “It’s the NCAA Tournament.”
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