Some opponents underestimate Hurley, but his value to Duke can't be overstated

December 12, 1992|By Ian O'Connor | Ian O'Connor,New York Daily News

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In the days preceding the most anticipated regular-season game in 10 years, Chris Webber decided Bobby Hurley wasn't as good as Jalen Rose. In the moments after Michigan lost to Duke on Saturday night, Webber decided Hurley wasn't as good as Jimmy King. The same King, mind you, who scored seven points in Duke's national championship victory last April and then told us that Hurley, Final Four MVP, was "average."

The Michigan Wolverines are young, insightful athletes. But when it comes to the subject of Bobby Hurley, Duke point guard, they just don't get it. They talk about him before, during and after the game and they don't seem to understand why it doesn't work the way it always did back home, when players like Hurley stayed clear of the playgrounds and shot jumpers in the sanctuary of their suburban driveways.

"You have to realize where our team comes from," Webber said last week. "We all play in the parks and in the city, and nothing anyone says or does can mess up our game."

The Fab Five are 0-3 against Duke, and before they lose again to the Blue Devils, they might want to discover where Hurley is from and what he's about. The 6-foot senior from Jersey City, who plays his homecoming game against Rutgers tomorrow night at the Meadowlands, is no less a hardened urban warrior than Webber and Rose of Detroit and Juwan Howard of Chicago.

"I've played in a lot of hostile environments," Hurley said. "Playing against Michigan is a cakewalk compared to Ferris High School in terms of trash talk."

A slightly built, baby-faced white kid, Hurley had heard it all as a Jersey City ballplayer. In pickup games at the Booker T. Washington projects, in heated St. Anthony games against Ferris, the local public-school power, opponents would taunt Hurley until they had no choice but to accept him.

It is time now for Michigan to accept him the way UNLV had to, and it is time for the rest of us to realize that Hurley is not simply an overachieving, feisty (fill in your favorite adjective for a white player here) ball-handler, but a gifted athlete who will go down as one of the best point guards in the history of the college game.

Why the hesitation to acknowledge Hurley's physical talents? Bob Hurley Sr., coach of St. Anthony, said people involved in his program "are offended by racial stereotypes," yet he knows his son has been draped with them.

"Basketball is not a black man's sport, but a poor man's sport," said Hurley Sr. "Bobby didn't grow up playing golf at a country club. He grew up on the playgrounds. People see him and think he's not athletic, but he's always had great endurance and good speed. If Duke ran a sprint in practice tomorrow, I'm sure Bobby would win it."

The perception of Hurley might be changing, and not so much because he has directed his team to three straight championship appearances and two straight titles. In summer scrimmages with the Dream Team, he blew by John Stockton enough for Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan to render their blessings.

"A lot of those guys couldn't believe how quick I was," Hurley said. "If you look at the comments from the Dream Team players, it wasn't like, 'Bobby set up the offense real well.' They were talking about my athletic skills."

Hurley said he uses players' ignorance to his advantage and that he wouldn't mind continuing to do so. But he is bothered by the surprised looks when others see his speed up close. He should be, the same way black players should be bothered when they are labeled "pure athletes."

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said he is "not sure anybody is quicker with the ball" than Hurley. That was evident Saturday night, when he drove past King, Rose and Michael Talley when he had to. It should have been evident three years ago.

So if you catch Hurley off the Jersey Turnpike tomorrow night, don't simply admire his work ethic and court awareness. Watch his lateral quickness, his speed from foul line to foul line, and the spring in his legs on daring drives to the basket.

What you will see is an impressive athlete in motion, playing 20 minutes from the parks that shaped a poor-man's game.

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