TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Bobby Hurley’s arrival at Arizona State created a buzz in the desert and drew national attention to a program often overshadowed by its rival to the south.
Before the initial fanfare of his hiring had subsided, Hurley was already at work, watching recruits, building his coaching staff, doing all the little things behind the scenes to get his tenure off to a good start.
Hurley promised he’d bring passion and a strong work ethic to the program during the hiring process and he didn’t waste any time proving it.
“His hitting the ground running immediately when he got here, the blue-collar work ethic hit everybody in the heart that this guy is a worker, he’s blue collar,” Arizona State athletic director Ray Anderson said. “All the passion he talked about during the (hiring) process, he validated that immediately and it’s already bearing fruit.”
Hurley’s hiring was a coup for an Arizona State program that has hovered in mediocrity for decades.
The Sun Devils have not won a conference regular-season title since the WAC in 1974-75 under coach Ned Wulk and have been to the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons just twice, the last time in 1980-81.
Herb Sendek, Hurley’s predecessor, was respected for his basketball mind and for being a good person, but didn’t win consistently enough during his nine seasons in Tempe. It was one of the same problems that led to his declining popularity during his previous head coaching gig at N.C. State.
Sendek was fired in March and two months later, the Sun Devils made a big splash by hiring Hurley as his replacement.
Hurley’s father, Bob Sr., was a legendary high school coach in New Jersey and Bobby won a pair of national championships under coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke before playing in the NBA. Hurley had immediate success at Buffalo in his first stint as a head coach, leading the Bulls to their first conference title and NCAA Tournament berth last season.
With a resume like that, it’s no wonder there was a charge around Arizona State after his hiring.
“I felt like the people respect my background and what I’ve accomplished, the unique things I’ve been exposed to in terms of coaching and who I played for, growing up in a coaching household and to have had success at a place that never really had it before in a short period of time. I think people respect that and hope that I can bring that winning attitude here.”
A big part of that winning attitude is the work ethic Hurley brought with him to the desert.
He was known as a scrappy, never-back-down player and has taken a similar approach toward coaching.
Not wanting to jump right into a head job, he worked as a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers and spent time as an assistant under his brother, Dan, at Wagner and Rhode Island.
Hurley wasn’t afraid to get dirt under his nails at Buffalo — a few times he handed out flyers at the student union to draw fans to Bulls’ games — and has taken the same approach at Arizona State.
Hurley dove into recruiting essentially within hours of his introductory news conference and began assembling his coaching staff not long after that. He also worked to upgrade Arizona State’s schedule, adding road games against Kentucky and UNLV for the 2015-16 season, and quickly found a house in the Valley to ease the transition for his family.
Hurley also has leaned on his brother, father and Coach K for advice to make sure nothing gets missed.
“I’ve had some people in my life that know the game,” Hurley said. “But also I think I have a pretty good feel for what needs to be done, having done it at a mid-major place and having the resources Arizona State has.”
Hurley himself has become a resource for Arizona State’s recruiting.
Arizona State has the cachet of playing in a big conference like the Pac-12, but had always been well down the list — even in its own conference — when it came to talking with big-name recruits, much less landing them.
Hurley’s name and the excitement he has brought have turned the Sun Devils into players in the recruiting game.
We can get into homes and we can get into recruiting circles where we were struggling before and it’s happened, like now,” Anderson said. “We have top 100, top 150 recruits on our radar and Bobby Hurley’s name and his reputation and his credibility gets him into any living room in the country now, whereas before we were shut out of many living rooms in the past.”
With Hurley at the helm, it could lead to a brighter future, too.