3 males’s Remaining 4 coaches share their tales of grinding to varsity basketball’s greatest stage

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GLENDALE, AZ — Earlier than Danny Hurley pursued historical past as the top coach of the UConn Huskies, he taught the topic again at St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark.

“I’ve been a highschool instructor that taught world historical past beginning with the collapse of the Roman Empire, principally centered on European historical past,” Hurley mentioned forward of the 2024 males’s Remaining 4. “From the Darkish Ages right through to the Reformation.”

That wasn’t the one factor he taught.

“I’ve additionally taught driver’s ed, well being, intercourse ed to coed courses at St. Anthony,” he continued. “Having the ability to educate intercourse ed at St. Anthony, coed courses, at 22 years previous, you learn to management a classroom and preserve an viewers captivated.”

UConn gamers mentioned Hurley by no means misses a possibility to flex his historic information, not too long ago lecturing the staff on Alexander the Nice as they made their means by March Insanity. At this level, everybody is aware of the kind of historical past Hurley and his staff are pursuing: solely three groups have gained back-to-back nationwide championships in males’s faculty basketball since John Wood led UCLA to seven nationwide titles in a row spanning the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The final staff to do it was Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators, means again in 2006-2007.

“I believe it’s positively helped me as a coach within the huddle,” Hurley mentioned of his expertise as a instructor. “I believe it additionally helps, too, if in case you have different jobs, apart from simply being a coach, I believe it simply helps you with perspective slightly bit, too.”

Okay, Hurley’s rise from the highschool ranks to varsity basketball’s greatest stage didn’t precisely occur with none connections. He’s one of many greatest nepo-babies within the sport. Hurley’s father Bob Hurley Sr. could be the best highschool coach of all-time on the aforementioned St. Anthony Excessive Faculty in Jersey Metropolis. His older brother Bobby Hurley is a university basketball legend who as soon as starred on a repeat nationwide championship winner at Duke alongside Christian Laettner.

Hurley’s colleagues within the Remaining 4 didn’t have the identical familial benefits, however two of them additionally clawed their means up from the highschool degree.

Clemson v Alabama

Photograph by Harry How/Getty Pictures

Alabama coach Nate Oats was instructing math courses and training basketball at Detroit’s Romulus Excessive Faculty solely 10 years in the past. NC State coach Kevin Keatts was at Hargrave Army Academy in Virginia. All three former highschool coaches hope their tales encourage youthful coaches nonetheless searching for the chance to interrupt in at the next degree.

“The highschool job I had wasn’t one in all these they pay you a bunch of cash simply to be the basketball coach,” Oats mentioned on Friday. “I needed to educate a full-time instructing load. I used to be instructing 5 hours of math at Romulus. I taught Algebra 1, I taught geometry. I had freshmen, I had sophomores. I taught statistics so I had juniors or seniors. I actually had my gamers dang close to yearly, their freshman yr up by math courses.”

Humorous sufficient, Oats received his massive break in faculty teaching due to the Hurleys. Oats coached a participant named E.C. Matthews at Romulus who Dan Hurley recruited at his earlier job with the Rhode Island Rams. Oats was so spectacular that Hurley’s brother Bobby finally employed him on his workers at Buffalo.

“The highschool job I had wasn’t one in all these they pay you a bunch of cash simply to be the basketball coach,” Oats mentioned. “I needed to educate a full-time instructing load. I used to be instructing 5 hours of math at Romulus. I taught Algebra 1, I taught geometry. I had freshmen, I had sophomores. I taught statistics so I had juniors or seniors. I actually had my gamers dang close to yearly, their freshman yr up by math courses.”

Oats was working after-school applications for a couple of thousand {dollars} on the aspect to get his wage as much as $70K per yr at Romulus. He used to return to the Remaining 4 and sleep on the ground at his associates’ resort rooms simply to community with different coaches. Only some years later, his astounding ascension within the teaching world started in earnest.

When Bobby Hurley finally left Buffalo for the Arizona State job, Oats was promoted to the top job with a $250K wage. He led Buffalo to the NCAA event out of the MAC 3 times in his 4 seasons, together with an unbelievable win over Arizona and future No. 1 total NBA draft decide Deandre Ayton again in 2018.

Alabama finally employed Oats to educate within the SEC. After 4 straight journeys to the NCAA event and a handful of convention titles, the Tide prolonged him on his present deal which pays him $4.5 million yearly.

“I believe there’s lots of actually good highschool coaches,” Oats mentioned. “I went up in opposition to some in metro Detroit space. I’ve gotten to know lots of them. Shoot, I nonetheless steal drills after I go on recruiting journeys to see completely different highschool coaches work.

“I used to be lucky. I received some breaks. I believe there’s lots of actually good highschool coaches that by no means received a break.”

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - Final Four - Practice

Photograph by Christian Petersen/Getty Pictures

Kevin Keatts constructed one of many nation’s high highschool applications at Hargrave in Virginia. That doesn’t imply it was at all times glamorous.

“I drove the bus at Hargrave,” Keatts mentioned earlier than NC State’s Elite Eight win over Duke. “I pumped the fuel. I swept the ground. I washed the garments.”

Keatts received to the school degree the quaint means: by using the coattails of his greatest gamers. Louisville employed Keatts as an assistant for his robust connections to high recruits. The Cardinals landed a couple of former Hargrave stars with Keatts on workers. One in every of them was Montrezl Harrell, who went on to an extended and profitable NBA profession. One other was Luke Hancock, who can be named Most Excellent Participant of the 2013 Remaining 4 as Louisville claimed the nationwide championship.

Louisville’s success made Keatts a sizzling commodity for head teaching openings. NC State finally employed him in 2018. Keatts’ run in Raleigh regarded prefer it would possibly lastly be over after this season till his staff’s charmed run in March: 5 wins in 5 days earned NC State an computerized bid to the NCAA event, and Keatts an computerized contract extension that took him off the recent seat. With 4 extra wins within the massive dance as a No. 11 seed, NC State has written a narrative match for Hollywood. Keatts has the background for it.

“Among the greatest coaches on the earth are highschool guys,” Keatts mentioned. “They’re doing the identical factor that we’re doing, however they’re not making some huge cash to do it. At that degree, some coaches get a stipend or possibly $2,000, $2,500 to do their job, they usually do it for the love of the sport. I believe that’s what’s so particular about it.”


There’s a wealthy layer of textual content behind each tangled teaching net within the NCAA event. Three former highschool coaches possible wouldn’t be within the Remaining 4 this yr if it wasn’t for one man who by no means left that degree.

Bob Hurley Sr. coached at St. Anthony his complete profession, from 1972–2017. For a lot of that point, he labored as a probation officer on the aspect to make ends meet. Hurley is one in all three highschool coaches within the Basketball Corridor of Fame, being enshrined alongside Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone in 2010.

The elder Hurley had an opportunity to leap to the school degree within the mid-80s when Xavier provided him an assistant job. He initially thought he was going to just accept it, however there was just one drawback: his two younger boys, Bobby and Danny, threw a match. They dreamed about starring at St. Anthony and didn’t wish to pack up their lives for southern Ohio simply as they had been about to get their probability.

Hurley’s grandson Andrew didn’t throw the identical tantrum when his father Dan advised him he was leaving St. Benedict to take the Wagner job in 2010.

“Each transfer that my father made we at all times made as a household,” Andrew Hurley, a present walk-on at UConn, advised SB Nation forward of the Remaining 4. “I by no means had any room to complain.”

Because the youngest Hurley was chatting with me, Dan Hurley got here up from behind to interrupt our dialog.

“It’s all lies,” the UConn head coach mentioned. “The whole lot he says is a lie!”

Andrew wanted a second to gather himself. “Yeah, he’s the worst,” Andrew mentioned of his dad with a smile.

Goals actually can develop into actuality for the highschool coaches grinding to get to the highest of the game. Three coaches right here in Phoenix are proof of precisely that — simply so long as your youngsters aren’t too annoying about it.

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