Whiny kid grows into leader he claimed to be


February 03, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

Durham, N.C. -- He has grown up right in front of our eyes, like some teen-age star of a hit television show. From a pouting, whiny 18-year-old who was thought to be overrated to a reasonably mature 21-year-old who some believe could be the best point guard ever to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

He has come full circle: As a freshman, Duke's Bobby Hurley was unsuccessful in his attempt to gain control of the team. Now a senior and the undisputed leader of the Blue Devils, Hurley is trying to delegate more responsibility to his teammates in an attempt to lead Duke to its fourth straight Final Four.

"I think there have been times this year when I've tried to do too much, looking to score instead of getting everybody involved," Hurley said last week. "If we were starting to lose, I would look at some of the other guys and not see confident looks. I felt I had to do it, myself. I put too much pressure on myself."

Will Hurley see his own confident reflection tonight, when fifth-ranked Duke plays host to No. 6 North Carolina? Or will he see what his father, St. Anthony (N.J.) High School coach Bob Hurley Sr., calls "a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom"?

"I think Bobby has played well. He's learning to play better with this team," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said yesterday. "He's making good decisions. He will play even better as this team learns to be more consistent."

If Duke doesn't win its third straight national championship, Hurley will be able to deal with it a lot better than he might have in the past. If Hurley seems to have changed from the Dead End Kid of the past three years into a no-nonsense, soon-to-graduate, semi-adult, it is for good reason.

"Whatever I go through the next couple of months will be better than what I went through last spring," said Hurley, who is averaging a career-high 17.5 points and an ACC-leading 7.5 assists. "When that happened, I thought my whole life was going down the tubes."

It happened in the early hours of May 5. The 1991-92 championship season had been finished for exactly a month. The excitement from Duke's second straight national championship -- the first time a team had won back-to-back NCAA titles since UCLA in 1972-73 -- had begun to quell. The campus was gearing up for final exams.

Hurley had gone out to a bar for a few beers to relax. To act, well, like a college kid. No spotlight. No post-game interviews. No Dick Vitale to proclaim him "the best point guard ever to play college basketball." On his way home, Hurley was stopped at a checkpoint and pulled over. He was arrested and charged with driving while impaired.

"I felt like I was going to lose everything," said Hurley, who pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of careless and reckless driving, receiving a suspended six-month sentence, a $500 fine and more unwanted attention than he ever thought possible.

But the incident ultimately proved beneficial for Hurley. Just as his embarrassing performance against Nevada-Las Vegas in the championship game pushed him into the gym for the next few months, the DWI became another wake-up call.

It was the start of his own personal rite of passage.

"It definitely refocused me," said Hurley. "I still think I would have busted my butt, because I knew what was at stake, but it made me a little more determined. . . . It was probably a big turning point for me, as far as growing up and being responsible. It accelerated that process, becoming more of a man."

Hurley had much to focus on: his place on the U.S. Select Team, a developmental group of top college players who were to serve as practice fodder for the Dream Team at its training camp in La Jolla, Calif. Though the incident in Durham stuck in his brain, the idea of going up against Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and even John Stockton made him even more eager than he had been before.

"I got into the best shape of my life," he said.

On a team that included Michigan's Chris Webber, North Carolina's Eric Montross, Wake Forest's Rodney Rogers and Duke teammate Grant Hill, Hurley made the most overwhelming impression. When he was able to do some of the same things he had done for the Blue Devils, his confidence rose right along with his pro stock.

"I didn't know if I'd be able to stay with players of that caliber," said Hurley, who is being mentioned as a possible lottery pick in this year's NBA draft. "The way I played out there really helped my confidence."

His performance led Jordan, an ex-Tar Heel no less, to tell Krzyzewski, "No wonder you guys win so much."

A champion's record

The record is almost ridiculous. Since Hurley's freshman year in high school, he has navigated his teams to seven straight championship games. Certainly, he has had help: At St. Anthony, there were Terry Dehere and Jerry Walker, now all-Big East players at Seton Hall. At Duke, he has blended in his talents with Christian Laettner, Grant Hill and Thomas Hill.

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