Hurley eager to seize reins at URI

KINGSTON, R.I. -- The one-hour team workout had just started, and strolling into the Ryan Center as if he were right on schedule was Rhode Island president David Dooley.

New head coach Dan Hurley, his more famous assistant, brother Bobby Hurley, and assistants Preston Murphy and Jim Carr didn't flinch. Neither did the players.

Nothing is a secret here. Dan Hurley wants everyone on campus to know what he is doing with the basketball program -- especially his president.

"We run open practices for our fans, alumni," Hurley said. "It's significant for me, with my background as a high school coach, where the headmaster comes in [at St. Benedict's in New Jersey] or at Wagner College, a small liberal arts school where the AD and president stopped through the office and asked about recruiting. I'm used to having that relationship and not being off on some island. I'm proud of the way we work."

That's good. Dooley's expectations are just as high.

"The Atlantic 10 is much better with Butler and VCU, and I'm really excited about that," Dooley said. "We think the A-10 should be a five- or maybe six-bid conference. We've got to be among them. That's our goal, very simply.

"We want to get a bid practically every year," Dooley continued. "We've got the facility. We think we've got the coaching staff. We think we can recruit to this institution. We have a tradition that dates back for some deep runs in the NCAA tournament. We think we can get there. That's our goal."

URI has had several successful postseason runs during the past 25 years under former coaches Tom Penders, Al Skinner and Jim Harrick. Jim Baron took over the program at a low point in 2001 and built a consistent winner, notching more than 20 wins in a season five times and reaching the NIT five times, including the NIT semifinals. The problem for Baron -- who was fired in March with two years remaining on his contract -- was that he didn't make the NCAA tournament in 11 seasons in Kingston and finished his last one at 7-24 overall and 4-12 in the A-10.

You won't hear Hurley talk about changing the culture at Rhode Island. He has too much respect for Baron and has known the Baron family too long. Baron always worked tirelessly, and his teams worked hard, too.

But the returning Rams may have needed a different voice, according to Hurley and the players.

"Coach Baron was tough on us," said senior guard Andre Malone. "But Coach Hurley is more in-your-face and gets in the drill with you. He's not scared to let go of his feelings. Coach Baron was a bit more laid-back. He was on the sideline more pushing us, [while] Coach Hurley is on the court and in our faces."

The one-hour practice, held in mid-September, focused on basic ballhandling, defensive and shooting drills. But there was a consistent energy from the moment the practice began to the moment it ended. No one -- coaches or players -- just stood around. The coaches were active the whole time, and various voices could be heard over the squeaking of sneakers.

"There is intensity, and Coach Hurley leads the charge," said sophomore guard Mike Powell. "The rest of the coaches follow it up and push us to make us better."

The players are well aware of the pressure they're all under at URI. The expectation is that the Rams will be competitive this season in the A-10, and with Butler and VCU joining the league this season the task of moving up in the conference standings just became significantly more difficult.

But URI has history and good facilities on its side, and now its recruiting has been elevated.

Keeping Murphy on staff was critical for the Hurleys. Murphy played for Skinner for two seasons and Harrick for two, including the 1998 Elite Eight team. He then went on to coach with Skinner at Boston College, serving as director of men's basketball operations, until Skinner and his staff were fired two seasons ago.

Hurley said he wanted to watch Murphy recruit and work players out before making a decision about keeping him. But doing so has already proven to be one of Hurley's best moves since he took the URI job.

Murphy had already recruited 6-foot-10 center Jordan Hare from Saginaw, Mich., for this season and Hare decided to honor the commitment after the coaching change. He said the hiring of the Hurleys made it an easier sell to stay but having Murphy remain on staff made the decision easier.

"[Murphy] is a connection," Hurley said. "He's a daily reminder that we can be great. Having him around -- and Bob, with his name recognition -- gets our foot in the door. Jimmy Carr's years as a Big East assistant gives us a great mix of people."

The Rams should be competitive this season, with Hare joining a senior-laden returning unit led by Nikola Malesevic. But the Rams probably won't see a dramatic improvement until 2013, when Hare is stronger, Powell is a junior and transfers Jarelle Reischel (Rice), DeShon Minnis (Texas Tech) and Gilvydas Biruta (Rutgers) become eligible and pair with potential impact 2013 recruits 6-4 E.C. Matthews (Romulus, Mich.) and 6-6 Hassan Martin from Staten Island, N.Y.

"The biggest challenge is to get across to recruits that this was once a national program that produced NBA players and was in the Elite Eight not that long ago," Hurley said. "That's what they hired us to do."

Hurley loved Wagner. He turned its program into a winner, going 25-5 overall and 15-3 in the Northeast Conference in his second season there, along with a program-changing win at Pitt during its nonconference slate. He said it would take a unique situation to pull him away from the small NEC school.

The Hurley name carries plenty of weight, but Wagner's winning record, even without reaching the postseason, made him and his brother even more marketable.

But how patient will Hurley be at URI?

"I think it's in the Hurley gene that we're not very patient," Hurley said. "We want to win. We're in an incredible conference. We've got transfers and we've recruited Jordan Hare and Mike Aaman, who will allow us to be competitive and then rise up in the conference sooner than expected."

That's exactly what Dooley wants to hear.

"Their whole philosophy on how to play and coach basketball fits this institution," Dooley said. "Their values are perfect for us."

He could have kept going, too, essentially saying, "Now just go win and get to the NCAA tournament."

The Hurleys expect to do nothing less.