The camera caught Bobby Hurley doing some giddy, god-awful dance with his players in the locker room, and it was clear then that the current coach of the University at Buffalo was no longer the former point guard at Duke. For all the winning he'd done as a Blue Devil, for all the nets he helped cut down and all the championship caps he planted over his sweat-soaked hair, Hurley had never celebrated a moment quite like this.
"Christian Laettner and those guys would never ask for that," Hurley said. "They just wanted me to put up numbers and help us win, and after that I was off the hook."
That's how he played, too. Hurley's style at Duke and at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City, New Jersey, wasn't joyless, but it wasn't exactly joyful, either. He was working out there, not playing, the grim determination stretched across his face. He never wanted to let down his old man, Bob Sr., a tough guy who's won more than 1,000 games in high school, and he never wanted to let down his mentor, Mike Krzyzewski, a tough guy who's won more than 1,000 games in college.
So a big night in March for one of the greatest point guards in college basketball history was a night of survival, of relief, of feeling he was finally off the hook. But leading his own team of young and impressionable men to a school's first NCAA tournament appearance? Being their Coach K? Beating Central Michigan to win the Mid-American Conference tournament with no margin for mid-major error in a one-bid league?
Hurley was going to find unmitigated joy in that. "I can't dance at all," he said, "and I made a fool of myself doing it, but you have to find ways to keep yourself young and connect with your kids. If my players play with the type of heart and passion they played with to win the championship, I'll do whatever they want me to do."
Do yourself this small favor: Before 12th-seeded Buffalo meets fifth-seeded West Virginia on Friday, catch the Hurley video on Vine. Also review the highlights of the MAC tourney final and the Buffalo coach laughing to himself on the sideline in the final minutes, with the victory assured, something you'd never see his father or Coach K do.
"A weird, funny moment," Bob Sr. said. His son wasn't gloating, not even close. Bobby was thinking of how far the program had come in his two years, how badly he wanted his team to feel what he felt at Duke and how special it would be in a few minutes to see his players hugging their families and friends.
From a distance, his younger brother, Danny, the Rhode Island coach who had first hired Bobby as an assistant at Wagner, caught the camera shot of the laugh and wondered about something entirely different. Danny's team had just lost to Dayton in the Atlantic 10 semis at the Barclays Center, costing Rhode Island its shot at the NCAAs, but Danny was thinking about everything Bobby had overcome. As charmed as his college and high school careers had been, Bobby had been robbed of the NBA stardom -- the holy hoops trinity of Jordan, Magic and Bird had predicted for him -- when he was nearly killed in a car accident early in his rookie season with the Sacramento Kings.
"And I thought maybe this was a little payback for him." Danny said. "The game was taken from him in a way nobody should have it taken away, and I felt like that moment Saturday night was one he deserved as an athlete and as a man."
Krzyzewski watched the Buffalo game from his home -- "Cheering for him like crazy," he said -- and was struck by the way the Bulls' point guard, Shannon Evans, played just like Bobby had while helping Duke win back-to-back national titles in the early '90s. Hurley had spoken with Coach K multiple times throughout the season, talking up his bond with Evans. Krzyzewski texted his congratulations immediately after the game, and Bobby called him after boarding the bus heading back to Buffalo on Sunday morning.
"We had a long talk," Krzyzewski said. "How he felt about winning, how great it was. It was like seeing your son get his first NCAA bid."
Bob Hurley Sr. is among those who always thought that Krzyzewski lived through Bobby at Duke, that Bobby was the point guard Krzyzewski always wanted to be for his coach at West Point, Bob Knight. But Krzyzewski doesn't want the roles reversed now. He doesn't want young Coach H to try to act like old Coach K.
"He shouldn't remind me of me," Krzyzewski said. "He should be Bobby, which he is. I don't think any of those thoughts. I just think of how poised he looks and how his team looks at him for instruction, and they believe. When I see a huddle with him and his team, I see belief from his players, which is really a cool thing.
"I thought he'd be a coach when I recruited him. But then I thought he'd be an outstanding pro guard, and he was in that horrific accident where he almost died and it cut short his playing career. I always felt that although he went into another phase of his life, he would eventually get back into basketball because that's who he was. Bobby has an incredible feel for the game, and certainly, he was in a family that breeds great coaches, with his dad being one of the greatest of all time."
Two Krzyzewski assistants during Hurley's playing days at Duke, Mike Brey and Tommy Amaker, are leading Notre Dame and Harvard into NCAA tournament games of their own this week. Neither is surprised Hurley needed but two seasons to turn his predecessor's 14-20 team into a legitimate threat to upset West Virginia in the first round.
Brey: "Bobby is a steady, poised guy on the sideline, and his relationship with his players is his greatest strength. He's a great communicator, a calm guy in how he leads his team. I think he's his own man. You've got two strong personalities as his mentors, his dad and Mike K, and I think he's found his own way and his own way of doing it. For a young coach, that's really pretty good."
Amaker: "Bobby was a dynamo as a player, an absolutely dazzling point guard who had such a belief in himself, and I think that separated him from other great players. I think you're probably seeing that in his Buffalo team now. I saw them against Kentucky [in November], and they were there to compete and win against Kentucky. To me, that's Bobby Hurley. His belief and confidence will rub off on you as a player."
But before he could inspire belief in his players, Bobby needed someone to believe in him. His NBA career over, Bobby tried his hand at scouting and then at running a horse farm in Florida. He put a thoroughbred into the Kentucky Derby but ultimately ended up in financial trouble and lost his stable to a foreclosing bank.
Bobby turned to coaching, and Danny hired him at Wagner of the Northeast Conference, the bowels of Division I. Maybe it was fitting. The idea that Duke recruits and graduates lead a guaranteed life of privilege was always a joke to anyone who knew about the Hurley upbringing around Jersey City's playgrounds and bingo halls.
"He didn't get handed anything," Danny said of Bobby. "He started his college coaching career as an assistant staying at Red Roof Inns in the NEC."
Bobby learned from Danny at Wagner, and again at Rhode Island, before the Buffalo job opened and Krzyzewski told Hurley he should take it, that he'd given his younger brother all he could give him. Bobby immediately gave his point guard the same offensive freedom Bob Sr. and Coach K had given him, and he told his team to play fast and to have fun doing it.
Nobody's had more fun than the head coach. Bobby got booed loudly on introduction at Kentucky -- where 1992 feels like yesterday -- before watching his Buffalo team go up by five at halftime and still hold the lead with 13 minutes and change to play. That was the night Hurley thought this team could join the Kentuckys and Dukes in the NCAA field.
"Bob's greatest asset was never his jump shot or his speed or his vertical jump," Danny said. "It was always that he was an incredibly daring competitor, and I think you saw that in his team from beginning to end."
And why not? Laettner might've hit the most famous shot in the sport's history, the '92 dagger against Kentucky, but Hurley hit the most important shot in Duke history, the 3-pointer against unbeaten UNLV at the '91 Final Four with the Blue Devils down five in the closing minutes. That was the shot that turned Duke into Duke.
Hurley did do some jumping up and down that night in Indianapolis, but he saved a little something for all these years later at his mid-major conference tournament in Cleveland. He danced on the way to the Dance for the first time as a head coach.
"It's really bad," Hurley said.
He was talking about his moves in the locker room. His moves on the court?
Pretty damn good at Buffalo, just like they always were at Duke.