WEST ROXBURY, Mass. -- Legendary St. Anthony (N.J.) High basketball coach Bob Hurley is in town this week, running his annual summer youth clinic with Shooting Touch, Inc., inside the gymnasium at Roxbury Latin School. As usual, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame member and three-time USA Today National Coach of the Year made everyone's visit worthwhile.
Hurley's Friars will be back in Boston this December, where they are headlining the third annual Shooting Touch Shootout. Once again they will face Masscahusetts power Central Catholic in the finale, a rematch of last year's instant classic in which the Friars escaped a sold-out Emmanuel College gymnaisum with a four-point win and their nation-best 70-game win streak still intact.
During a break in today's action, Hurley sat down with ESPNBoston.com to discuss the upcoming rematch with Central Catholic, the talent in Massachusetts, and some of his critiques of today's climate in youth basketball.
Q: What kind of a lesson was last year's close call to Central Catholic?
A: "When you travel, these kids are out of their element, they're not experienced traveling, the officiating, the crowd, everything plays into it being harder for the kids. And that's why you do it, because it's going to help you grow. Those games really helped us when we came back up to Springfield [the following month, at the Hoophall Classic]. We played a really good team [Tift County, Ga.] with a kid going to Kansas [Brannen Greene], and the experience of playing with the shot clock up there during Christmas time helped us the second time around."
Q: What are your thoughts on Central Catholic's two returning stars, Tyler Nelson and Nick Cambio?
A: "They both played very well against us last year, very well. The guard [Nelson] can really shoot it. Cambio got in foul trouble against us, which really helped us, but yeah he's a very good, very physical player. Offensively, they were very good. You could see that they were very comfortable they way they were playing. They were hard to play against."
Q: What's the dynamic now with your two sons, Danny and Bobby, recruiting your area now as head coaches in Division 1?
A: "They're around my guys, which they did at Rhode Island, they did at Wagner. I haven't sat in on any of their home visits -- I just don't know if I could sit through it without, you know, laughing, daydreaming, remembering when, you know [laughs]. It's terrific, I'm really proud of both of them, and they will ultimately sign a kid from St. Anthony's. To this point, neither of them have been able to get a kid in the few years they've been coaching, two years at Wagner, one at Rhode Island. But I think that's coming soon."
Q: Some feel that during the summer, with AAU and all, kids can sometimes develop bad habits.
A: "That's not sometimes -- they absolutely do. Fran Frischilla said it should be a ratio of 70 percent practice and 30 percent games. And it's the other way around -- it's 70 percent games, or more, or 20 percent practice. You improve to a certain extent up to a certain age just playing games, and then when you reach a certain age you've got to go out and practice stuff. A lot of this generation, kids are used to games being organized for them, they don't know how to go out, and that's the focal point of everything to do with the kids here.
"This is a very talented group of kids from Massachusetts we have. Of camps that I run, this is as good a group of grammar school kids as I've had. Really, they have a lot of potential. And they can't fall victim to this mindless game after game after game. They've got to try to, you know, play the games, but be out working on their game all the time, imitating, developing. You know, take moves, you see somebody on television and try to take that move. Go out and develop good work habits."
Q: What do you like about returning to Boston every year?
A: "If I didn't live in New Jersey, this was a place I saw myself living. I love Boston. I love how friendly everyone is, I love the passion for sports here. I love the North End, all the food experiences, I'm totally plugged into eating when I'm here. When you play in the tournaments, you can't, you're nervous, you can't go out. But here [this week], it's all about the North End."
Q: What's your favorite place to eat in Boston?
A: "The Barking Crab [in South Boston] is the closest place to us. I can walk there from the hotel, we stay at the Boston Harbor, which is absolutely an awesome hotel. We'll usually go into the North End a couple nights, I love walking there. We'll go over to Harvard to this place called Bartley's, which is a really good burger place. I make sure every night I have New England clam chowder, and then last night I had Boston cream pie. I eat things you wouldn't all be eating, but I'm up here on vacation [laughs]."
Q: Complying with your state association's rules, how involved are you able to be with your kids in the offseason?
A: "New Jersey's not good during the school year. I have former players work them out right up to the season, and then after the season. But once they get out of school, we can work them out. So we've played now 20-25 games this summer, we've practiced an awful lot. I took all my younger kids away to camp already up in the mountains. I'll take the rest of the varsity in the middle of August away, almost like going to football camp. They stay in cabins together, socialization I think really helps set a tone for when they go back to school.
Q: The new NCAA eligibility rules starting with the 2016 class will obviously affect how players re-classify and what have you, but what are your thoughts on the increasing rate of transfers and re-classification at the high school level?
A: "It's a mess. To give you an idea of what a mess this is in Jersey...last year, an AAU team F.A.C.E.S. is a very, very good 14-year-old team. They had four kids who came to my school, three of them played on my JV team as freshman and the other one played on the freshman team. They lost in the state 14-year-old championship to St. Michael's Union City. St. Michael's Union City's team won this game by 15 points.
"F.A.C.E.S. is so good, they beat St. Raymond's in the Bronx in an AAU tournament -- the intact varsity team lost to a 14-year-old AAU team. So this is a very good team. And then the entire St. Michael's team re-classified to stay in grammar school for another year. Now, they've just won everything you can win in grammar school and stay for another year.
"I just think you can't plan, by moving yourself backward, that that's going to help you to move forward. It just happens to you if you work hard and you're trying to do things to get better. And if you're doing that stuff, it works out. All the parents are planning now, all this stuff about re-classifying high school, or doing it in grammar school, or the post-grad year. I'm amazed by it. Unless the kid is just physically, you know, just needs another year of high school, I think most kids just go through a natural progression, and deal with the way you are in your career and be happy with who you are, [instead of] keep re-inventing yourself.
"That said, that's all that's going on here [New England], this is like the birthplace of re-classification."
Q: Do you think the talent up here is underrated?
A: "It absolutely is. You look at all the kids coming out of the prep schools out of here the last period of time, Wayne Selden is going to Kansas, the big kid who's at Arizona [Kaleb Tarczewski], the Murphy kids, the kid who's at Georgetown [Nate Lubick], there are an awful lot of good players coming out of here. When I talk to people about basketball here, I try to tell them it's really not that different than other places in the country, you shouldn't be trying to explain yourself to anybody. I think it's very, very good. I coached Wayne Turner when he came out of high school, in the Summit Hoops game. There's a lot of good players that come out of Masscahusetts and Boston."
Q: Much has been made over the years about how your school manages to stay open despite financial struggles. How do you guys do it?
A: "We work our butt off. We run countless fundraising events all year, we're always out looking for corporate money, we're trying to get new people to the board of trustees at school, we keep trying. For example, last year we ran our first roast, and it was very successful. We roasted P.J. Carlesimo, and it was a very good night. Phil Simms was there, he loved it and said 'You can roast me next year'. So now we've got him for next year, and I think Bill Parcells will come and be one of the roasters.
"He [Parcells] read a story about our plight about two years ago, and he gave us $100,000. He didn't want anyone to know about it. I said, we cannot allow that to happen. We're very happy to tell people that Bill, who had no connection to us, read a story and stepped forward. Last week Dick Bavetta, the NBA referee, read a story in the New York Post about our school and he sent two tuitions for kids in our high school. There are good people out there, you've just got to try and keep your name out there."
"At one point I thought I would retire and there would be a succession plan to replace me, and now I have a distinct feeling I will retire because the school closes. I never thought that would be the way to go, but it appears that way now."
Q: If the school were to close down, you wouldn't consider pursuing a job at another school?
A: "No [laughs]. This is the only job I've ever had -- I was the freshman coach in 1968. I coached in the 60's, 70's, 80's, 90's, 2000, now I'm on my second decade in the new millennium. Has the world changed since 1968 when I was coaching the freshman team? Wow. Wow.