By Jon Rothstein
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The requests came one after the other.
First there was the New York Times. Then there was ESPN’s College Gameday. The calls for access kept coming and they all wanted the same thing — they all wanted to tell the same story.
Danny Hurley was the new head coach at Wagner and his brother Bobby was his top assistant. Together, the two would draw on their rich New Jersey ties and help invigorate the Staten Island school’s struggling basketball program.
It was a natural topic to flock to during the duo’s first season in the Northeast Conference but after a while, the message was redundant. The stories were all about New Jersey’s favorite basketball family but not about the Wagner program itself.
“It helped us in recruiting and got our name out there, but in essence the articles about our team last year were human interest stories,” Danny Hurley said recently. “I understand our family situation is unique but moving forward, we want the story to be about our players and our program.”
The only way for Hurley to ensure that is to win — and win big, a challenge the second year head coach relishes after taking over a team that won only five games the season before his arrival. The Seahawks won 13 last year in Hurley’s first season and the eight game turnaround was the biggest in Division One, prompting a noticeable buzz surrounding Wagner entering the 2011-12 campaign.
“There should be pressure,” Hurley said. “It’s not fun when people think you’re always the underdog. It doesn’t feel right. I’d rather people be unrealistic with expectations and have us pegged as being better than we might be. It allows our team and me personally, to have no choice but to keep an edge about ourselves.”
Starting from the ground floor isn’t anything new for Hurley. Prior to Wagner, he was the head coach at St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey and turned the Graybees into one of the premier prep programs in America. Yet even with multiple division one players on annual basis, Hurley was ready for something different.
“I coached 30 games a year in high school and because of our talent level and how hard we played, I knew were going to win 25,” Hurley said. “There were really only five games a year where I had to coach each and every possession. Now, I have to coach each and every second for 31 games because it’s so hard to win a game at this level. I didn’t realize St. Benedict’s was boring until I got to Wagner. There’s some things I miss about high school. I miss having Tristan Thompson, Samardo Samuels, and Gregory Echenique all on the same front line but right now by far is the happiest I’ve been in basketball.”
If you’ve ever met Hurley, you know it takes a lot for him to say he’s happy. Regardless of the opponent, he regularly admits that he thinks his team will never win the next game on their schedule.
This year could be different.
A major influx of talent has many believing the Seahawks are good enough to challenge defending champion LIU, Robert Morris, and Quinnipiac for a place in the top third of the NEC.
Back for Wagner are two high scoring wings in veterans Tyler Murray and Latif Rivers and point guard Kenny Ortiz is a transfer from Southern Mississippi who could be one of the best kept secrets in all of college basketball.
Forwards Jon Williams and Mario Moody should both add more pop on the baseline while Naofall Folahan brings a different element to the NEC because of his size and mobility at 6-foot-11.
And just last weekend, Dwaun Anderson picked the Seahawks over several BCS schools after initially committing to play for Tom Izzo and Michigan State. If he receives a waiver, he could be eligible to join Wagner for the second semester of the upcoming season.
Surprising? Maybe even a little to the man who assembled all of these talented parts.
“If you’re a coach, you want to get to practice regardless of talent,” Hurley said. “Now I go down to the gym and I look around and see what we’ve done in recruiting and I get real excited about where we are and where we’re headed. I didn’t think we’d be able to do what we’ve done in such a short period of time.”
How will they fare? Leave a comment below.