Bobby Hurley: The Night He Came Close To The End of the Road

ASU’s new basketball coach, Bobby Hurley, has the unique experience of having played for two of the winningest coaches of all-time.  His dad, Bob Hurley, is the legendary coach at St Anthony High School in Jersey City, New Jersey and has amassed over 1,000 wins and 27 High School State Championships.  He coached his son during Bobby’s four years of high school and together, they won four consecutive state championships.  Bobby then went on to play for Coach K at Duke, who has now won five national championships and he has amassed 1018 career coaching victories.  While at Duke, Hurley joined Christian Laettner and former Sun Grant Hill to win two consecutive national championships.  That is quite a foundation for the new face of ASU Basketball.  But there was one night many years ago where all that pedigree was almost lost in the blink of an eye.

December 12, 1993: Arco Arena, Sacramento California.  The Kings had just lost to the Clippers before a sellout crowd.  Bobby was in his second month of his rookie season, having been selected #7 overall in the 1993 draft.  Despite the Kings’ 5-14 start for the season, locals saw in Bobby the potential for making all of his teammates better, much as he had done at Duke.  He was playing alongside guys like Wayman Tisdale, who later went on to star for the Suns, and Hall of Famer Mitch Richmond.  Hurley was averaging 7.1 points per game along with 6.1 assists, having started all 19 games.   But his intangibles showed the most promise; things like grit, commitment, dedication, and unselfish play.

Bobby left the arena about an hour after the game and was heading home.  He approached an intersection and, in the darkness of night, did not detect any oncoming traffic.  He was executing a left hand turn when a horrific collision occurred with a vehicle that had been approaching from the opposite direction.   That driver, Daniel Wieland, failed to have his headlights on and was estimated to be travelling at least 50 miles per hour, facts that were later determined to be the direct cause for the accident.  Bobby had failed to put on his seat belt and, upon impact, was shot like a projectile out of the vehicle.  He landed in a ditch about 100 feet away from his demolished vehicle and there he lay with severe injuries.  A passerby, Mike Batham, immediately administered whatever first aid he knew until paramedics arrived.  Within minutes, he was joined by Mike Peplowski, a teammate of Bobby with the Kings who happened to take the same route home from the arena.

Bobby was rushed to a Sacramento hospital where it was determined that he had several broken ribs and both of his lungs had collapsed, a condition that is truly life threatening. He also had a fractured collarbone, a torn tendon in his right knee, a fractured fibula and a compression fracture in his lower back.  Doctors have since stated that 99 out of 100 people would have died from these kinds of injuries.  But not Bobby, who recovered.  Yet he did so not without cost.  He missed the remainder of his rookie season and many believe that when he returned to the court that next season and over the five remaining years in the NBA, he was never the same.  He left professional basketball and the game as a whole following the 1997-98 season.

His story goes on, including participation in thoroughbred horse racing and then his eventual return to the game as an assistant basketball coach for a couple of seasons at Wagner, working with his brother, Dan.  Bobby left Wagner and joined his brother’s coaching staff at the University of Rhode Island in 2012, which led the following year to his head coaching position at the University of Buffalo.  Bobby took a team that had finished 14-20 the year prior to his arrival and in his two years at the helm, his University of Buffalo Bulls notched records of 19-10 and 23-10, including an appearance in this year’s NCAA Tournament.  And now his story continues here in Tempe.

The accident way back in 1993 took a great deal away from Bobby Hurley.  He would never have been a Russell Westbrook or Kyrie Irving but he could have been a factor in the NBA.  We will just never know.  Well, one thing Bobby did not lose that night was the ability to make the people around him better.  Hid did that at the University of Buffalo and I am excited to see what he will do for the young men who play for him at ASU.  You may not like Duke.  You may not even like ASU.  But you won’t be able to help but love Bobby Hurley.