SCOREBOARD By Jim Hague Legendary coach sees the end of the road upcoming St. Anthony mentor Hurley believes 2008 will be the last

A legendary coaching career will come to an end in two years.

So says St. Anthony High School basketball coach Bob Hurley, the most recognizable high school basketball coach in the country. Hurley, who has been at the tiny school on Eighth Street in downtown Jersey City for the last 34 years, revealed this week that he will be ready to step down after he collects the 900th win of his historic career. He earned career win No. 850 earlier this season.

“Nine-hundred will be the number,” Hurley said. “When it gets to 900, then it’s time to leave. It’s official. Everyone knows. The nuns at St. Anthony know. My wife [Chris] knows. At that point, it will be 36 years or thereabouts, and it will be time to do something else in the sport. It’s a good number for me to leave on. It fits.” Added Hurley, “The current sophomores will be seniors and the freshmen, they’ll know ahead of time that [long-time assistant coach] Ben [Gamble] will take over. It all makes sense. You get to a point in your life where it’s just enough. I’ll be 60 years old, coaching my last year, and I would have been around five decades. That’s too much.”

Hurley said that he came to the realization and the decision to retire recently while coaching his current team. “The single reason why I’ll leave is that the world around these kids these days has changed so much,” Hurley said. “There’s such an age gap between the kids and myself now. We seem to have less of a common ground. I tell too many stories of the past that they cannot relate to. I mention when [his son] Bobby played and it’s like ancient history.”

When Bobby Hurley played for his father on the greatest high school basketball team known to man, it was 1989 – on a team that also featured future NBA players Terry Dehere and Rodrick Rhodes and Seton Hall standout Jerry Walker. It was an undefeated team that won the mythical national championship.

“Most of our kids were tiny infants when that team won,” the elder Hurley said. “They were just born when that team was playing. They can’t relate to those stories. It’s become a difficult school to coach at, because you just don’t coach. You have to do other things.”

Like becoming a fundraiser, which Hurley was forced to become to help save the school three years ago, getting contributions from a host of sources like NBA stars Grant Hill and Christian Laettner, guys who only knew of St. Anthony because of Hurley the father, and Hurley the son.

That’s how important Bob Hurley has become to that tiny school on Eighth Street. He’s been featured on national television. A book was written about his team’s last championship season two years ago. That book just might be turned into a motion picture. There have been 23 state titles, nine Tournament of Champions trophies and three national championships. It’s just been one thing after another, and now, it will all come to an end in two years, when Hurley walks away.

“I’ll find something else to do in the sport,” Hurley said. “Maybe I’ll do some scouting for a pro team. Our feeder program in Jersey City has slid. Maybe I’ll work building a new feeder program to get more kids playing basketball again.”

It’s almost too unfathomable to capture, the idea of St. Anthony basketball without Bob Hurley. But for the first time, the coach has introduced the idea of retirement. Maybe he might change his mind. Maybe coaching this year’s team might force him to reconsider.

Because this year’s version of the Friars has been a pleasant surprise. No one could have ever imagined that the Friars would be 7-1 after the tough early schedule, especially after losing two key players right before the start of the season.

Projected starting point guard Ralph Fernandez had moved to Florida with his family, and projected starting power forward Kharique Irick moved back to Teaneck.

“Kharique didn’t want to be in Jersey City,” Hurley said. “He always wanted to go back to Teaneck. He was more interested in being there, so it’s good that we separated. Ralph’s family situation changed, so he had to move. We have to be ready all the time with the way kids think now. The modern kid could walk away at any time. The dedication isn’t the same as it once was. Kids in the past wanted to compete all the time. We always approach a season thinking of different things. This year, we had to make some changes. The personnel suddenly got younger. We had to go with two younger kids to offset those losses. We gave the younger kids the opportunity to play earlier. Instead of being along for the ride, they’re now steering the vehicle.”

A new winning team The younger kids have responded in a huge way. The Friars have won games that no one expected they would win, like last Saturday, when they defeated Jersey Shore rival Christian Brothers Academy, 47-45, in the Inner-City Scholarship tournament at St. Peter’s College, thanks to two clutch free throws from Giovanni Carenza with two seconds left.

Or two days later, when the Friars defeated Linden – a team that soundly defeated the Friars by 17 points a year ago. This time around, the Friars won, 51-47.

The Friars are playing just two seniors, but utilizing five sophomores.

“We’re really top heavy with younger kids,” Hurley said. “Instead of having five seniors and two sophomores, we have it the other way around. We can’t play like we used to. We don’t play as much man-to-man defense. We have guys that are a little slow afoot, so we’re doing things to try to better utilize what we have, slow the game up a little.”

St. Anthony has only one proven scoring threat returning from last year’s team, namely 6-1 senior David Bullock, a Hudson Reporter All-Area Second Team selection a year ago.

“Last year, David led us in steals, rebounding and blocked shots,” Hurley said. “Now, he’s our best defensive player as well as the other things, and he’s a double-figure scorer. He plays all the time out of necessity.”

Carenza has now developed into a big-time inside presence and is also averaging double figures in points and rebounds. A year ago, the 6-7 Carenza might have been nothing more than an afterthought. Now, he’s the most prolific post scorer and rebounder since Terrence Roberts headed off to Syracuse three years ago.

“I’m so excited for him,” Hurley said. “He’s really a great story. He’s playing better than anyone we’ve had inside for a long time. He’s our best free throw shooter and he hit those big shots against CBA. He really has worked hard to get where he is.”

Junior Miles Beatty has also enjoyed a more increased role with the Friars. The Guttenberg native, who has been targeted for stardom since he was in seventh grade, is now getting his chance to be a big-time contributor.

“We need Miles to get points in every game we play, not every other game,” Hurley said. “It’s all about concentration with him. He needs to be a better all-around player. I stress defensive rebounding with him. He can’t hide. He has to take on more responsibility.”

Sophomore Michael Rosario, once known for his baseball prowess for the Lincoln Park Little League All-Star team that won the District 7 championship a few years ago, is now showing off his basketball skills and playing regularly. Jiovanny Fontan, another sophomore guard, has been thrown into the mix and has been doing very well.

Incredibly, the Friars are winning games without the full services of two others who were expected to perform this season. Senior forward Sean Smith has been hobbled by a bad ankle, and sophomore guard Travon Woodall, who has the potential to be a great one, has been hobbled by a bad foot and may have a stress fracture. Through it all, the Friars keep winning. The coach may be making plans to depart, but the team isn’t ready to give up their successful ways.

“We’re winning games because we’re a scrappy St. Anthony team,” Hurley said. “I know we’re getting better as a team. To be truthful, I didn’t know what we had here. We needed some guys to emerge and they have.”

The tough games don’t end. There are games with Pleasantville and Monmouth Regional over the weekend, followed by a trip to the Basketball Hall of Fame Monday afternoon to face the nation’s No. 7-ranked team, Mater Dei of California, on national television.

In time, those trips, those nationally televised games, even these interviews, won’t be the same, if Bob Hurley’s not a part of it. He’s been a part of this reporter’s life since second grade, since he was a gym teacher at the now-defunct St. Paul’s of Greenville in Jersey City. He’s been a subject of countless interviews for print about 500 times over the last 20 years of reporting on Hudson County sports.

When Bob Hurley finally retires, it will feel as if a part of history goes with him. He’s now officially talking about retirement, so we should all appreciate this treasure while he’s still around.


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