Chris Mullin and Bobby Hurley are coaches whose history as elite college ballers sparks nostalgia during March Madness.
Chris Mullin‘s St. John’s Red Storm fell to Bobby Hurley’s Arizona State Sun Devils 74-65 in First Four March Madness Tourney play on Wednesday night. It’s not the first time that these two Northeast basketball beasts, who grew up ballin’ on the concrete courts of NYC and New Jersey, have clashed on the court.
As the legend goes:
“In 1992, Hurley – then entering his senior year at Duke – joined a thrown-together squad of eight top college players from across the country in San Diego for a scrimmage. Their opponent? What many consider the greatest basketball team ever assembled: the Dream Team, also known as the 1992 United States men’s Olympic basketball team. Mullin was a member.
“It was the best week of my life,” Hurley said Tuesday about his time playing against Mullin and the Dream Team. “As a competitor and as a basketball player, you want to face, like, the best players that you can. And they were all in one gym for a week.
Mullin remembered Hurley by the impact he made that week as a college kid playing against some of the greatest to ever play the game.
“He played great,” Mullin recalled in an interview. “Bobby (was) maybe at the top of the list and really helped his status among NBA executives because he played really, really well against, well, you know who he was playing against.”
Even without converging college coaching careers, Mullin and Hurley are culturally intertwined as two of the most important and influential American white hoopers in college basketball history, along with Larry Bird and Christian Laettner.
They were two guys bred on authentic East Coast basketball, who played with a gritty swag that made them appear colorless when holding the pill.
Mullin was one of the elite players and prime personalities for St. John’s during the 1980’s, when the Big East was blazing an unprecedented trail and boosting the popularity of college basketball.
The sharp-shooting “Mr. Basketball” with the Brooklyn accent fulfilled his hoop dreams by becoming an NBA Hall of Famer, executive and then returning to St. John’s in 2015 to rebuild the struggling program and lead them back to respectability.
Mullin just completed his first winning season in four years at St. John’s, leading the Red Storm (21-13) to its first NCAA Tournament in five years. Despite some criticism, he announced today that he’s 100 percent sure he’s returning.
Hurley also took over his squad in 2015 and made an immediate impact on the program.
As coaches, they are having similar success. But Hurley’s NBA career wasn’t as fruitful as Mullins.
The trajectory of Hurley’s career was drastically altered after a car accident in December of 1993.
Hurley’s SUV was hit by a station wagon and he was ejected from his vehicle and landed in a ditch over 70 feet away. He suffered two collapsed lungs, a ruptured trachea, broken ribs, a compression fracture in his back, and an injury to his wrist.
Hurley’s lucky to be alive and healthy enough to walk the sidelines for the Sun Devils. He’s fortunate to be able to demonstratively shout at refs and show tough love to his players like his dad Bobby Senior did en route to wining 26 state championships in 39 years at St. Anthony High School in Jersey City.
Not surprisingly, Bobby Jr. has accumulated a few technical fouls to go along with a lot of goodwill in his first four seasons at ASU. After two losing seasons, he’s led the Sun Devils to two NCAA Tournament berths.
Heroically, less than a year after the accident that nearly claimed his life, the future Arizona State men’s basketball coach returned to the Sacramento Kings’ lineup for their regular-season opener on Nov. 4, 1994. He faced Charles Barkley and the juggernaut Phoenix Suns and dropped a gritty 11 points in 23 minutes and five assists in a Kings win.
The injuries eventually caught up to Hurley and he was out of the league by age 26 after just five seasons. Despite dominating high school ball and winning two National Championships with Duke in the ’90s, Hurley’s life is a lesson in resilience.
If there’s anything Hurley knows how to do, it’s win championships.
Mullin was a clutch performer as well. Maybe one day these cultural icons can bring an NCAA championship to their respective squads. Mullin has to wait until next season. Hurley begins his quest on Friday in the West Region against Buffalo.