‘We couldn’t be closer:’ Hurley brothers strive to continue family legacy

UConn coach Dan Hurley and his brother, Bobby, shared a healthy sibling rivalry growing up. Now, their brotherhood is stronger than ever and will be on display in Monday’s men’s national championship. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley flew to Las Vegas and Houston to support his brother, Dan, during UConn’s unexpected NCAA men’s tournament run. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

HOUSTON – From a sibling rivalry to being a part of the 2023 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the brotherhood between Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley and Connecticut coach Dan Hurley continues to evolve.

Whatever differences they shared early on were settled and a bond forged through the game of basketball. Their close relationship will be on display during the NCAA Men’s Division I Championship game Monday at NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, when Bobby will be in the stands rooting for his brother, who will be on the sideline trying to coach the Huskies over San Diego State for Connecticut’s fifth national title.

“Our relationship was like normal brothers, very competitive, fighting all the time, causing trouble and havoc and the whole thing,” Bobby said. “As we got older, around our late teens, 18, 19, 20, we became like best friends. The relationship shifted and ever since then we’ve been just super supportive of each other and just want the best for each other.”

Competition was natural in the basketball family. Their father, Bob Hurley, became one of the best high school coaches at Saint Anthony’s in New Jersey, where he was a four-time USA Today national champion, a three-time USA Today Coach of the Year and won 28 state championships.

Bob watched the sibling rivalry unfold through myriad competitions.

“They’re always close; they’re 18 months apart,” he said. “They shared a bedroom and were practice partners, Wiffle Ball partners, go-kart competitions, everything that they were involved in. There was always the rivalry … that carried all the way up through the years.”

The rivalry evolved into a relationship of love and respect. When both Bobby and Dan went to college, they became very close. Bobby said there wasn’t a defining moment in the relationship, but noted that their shared experiences playing college basketball brought them closer.

He said the bond grew “As we were both in college and maturing, and just getting older, and both doing our own things, with me at Duke and my brother at Seton Hall (and) then to both be invested in each other’s way, with what we’re both doing and our success.”

Bobby played for the Blue Devils from 1989 to 1993, won two national championships and became a college basketball icon. Dan played for Seton Hall from 1991 to 1996 and averaged 14.3 points, 5.2 assists and 2.3 steals in his final season with the Pirates.

After Dan’s playing career ended, Bobby was drafted by the Sacramento Kings seventh overall in the 1993 draft. He survived a near-fatal car collision that altered his career during his rookie year in 1993, but went on to play five seasons with the Kings before being traded to the Vancouver Grizzlies in the 1997-98 season.

Luckily for Dan, his brother hopped in the coaching ranks as well, with head coaching stints at the Buffalo and now Arizona State. He has led both programs to NCAA tournament appearances.

With the Sun Devils making an exit in the first round of the tournament against TCU, Bobby said that watching his brother’s team reach the championship game reminded him of his team’s upset victory over Arizona on a Desmond Cambridge 60-foot shot in Tucson that kept the Sun Devils’ NCAA tournament hopes alive.

“It’s how I felt when I had my arms on my head when Cambridge sank the shot at Arizona,” he said after UConn’s win against Miami Saturday night. “I mean, it was how elated I felt. It’s hard to describe it. My hand was going over my head in a very similar way when the ball was going through the basket last night. That’s the best way that I could describe it.”

Bobby flew to Las Vegas and now Houston to support his younger brother before some of the biggest games of his career. As the Huskies cruised to a 72-59 win against the Miami Hurricanes in Saturday’s Final Four, the broadcast showed the Hurley family sitting in the stands midway through the first half.

“I mean, it means everything to me,” Dan said. “He’s gotten in early to these – got early to Vegas to see me the night before and he got here early so he could see me last night.”

Bobby has spent more time on flights than with his brother on location, but he cherishes the limited time they share.

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“I just wanted to see him the night before in Vegas,” Bobby said. “And I know how much time he invests into preparing, so I don’t want to take a lot of his time. Certainly, as he’s getting his team ready to play, but I wanted to wish them well. I did that in Vegas and then I did it again, before last night’s game, the night before, and was able to spend a few minutes with him just to see how he’s feeling.

“I know what he’s going through. I understand all the emotions and feelings as you’re getting ready to play these types of games, so I just wanted to be there for him and be supportive – but not take too much time.”

The intensity both brothers share is a product of their New Jersey upbringing, and no one understands that more than Bob, who believes their passion for the game has led to sustained success for both brothers.

“When you grow up in the city, there’s a passion for that significance and you have a little style to play the way you want to. If you have a boring game, you’re not going to get a lot of recognition, so you have to have some junk in your game,” Bob said. “You have to have some style, but not too much because it’s still got to be related to playing well.”

As they grew in the coaching ranks, so did their relationship. After signing his contract extension last month, Bobby shared more insight into their relationship.

“My brother and I, we’ve been sounding boards for each other since we’ve been doing this,” he said. “We talk to each other every day of every game and so we both understand the stress, the pressure, how you feel before the game. And so, we have a special connection that few people understand.”

That connection does not surprise Bob in the slightest.

“When I talk to either one of them, they’ll tell me about the conversations they just had with the other guy, so I know,” Bob said. “In this business, you want someone that you can talk to, that you can trust with the back and forth sharing stuff, all the time, about a million things that go into being a coach in college.

“I mean, who better than your brother to be able to, either to dump on or to console or to seek advice from just naturally?”

Bob, who coached both boys at now-closed Saint Anthony’s, described the routine he has with his sons before big games, which he planned to follow with Dan as he prepared for the championship game against San Diego State.

“Our routine is we go do the scouting report, we go to everything that they do today until they go back (to the hotel),” he said. “Then, I don’t see them until I go out to watch them warm up.

“So Bobby and Dan will spend a bit of time together today, but just a little bit of social time. And then we’ll go into the bat cave to get ready for the game.”

As the Hurley family looks to offer their final moments of support and advice before the big game, Dan expressed a simple sentiment that said everything regarding his relationship with his brother.

“We couldn’t be closer,” he said.

Hayden Cilley HAY-din SIL-lee (he/him)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Hayden Cilley expects to graduate in December 2024 with a master’s degree in mass communication. Cilley covered the Phoenix Mercury in 2022 for The Next Hoops and is writing and podcasting about the Mercury for PHNX Sports.