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  • Bob Hurley's high school hoops powerhouse that is St. Anthony closes its doors entirely after this school year. On Friday, players past a present gathered for a send-off only Hurley could inspire.
By Tim Balk
May 12, 2017

JERSEY CITY, N.J. — The clock ticked past 4 on Friday afternoon. Inside the Community Education Recreation Center, the nondescript gym where the St. Anthony High School basketball team has practiced and played since the turn of the millennium, it was time for one last game of hoop. Well, several, actually.

Dressed in jeans and a black sweater vest, coach Bob Hurley Sr., who has presided over the men’s basketball program at the school since 1972, laid out the ground rules, calling for games to seven. So began more than two hours of the most casual reunion games one can possibly imagine. A rotating crew of St. Anthony players past and present participated in an evening that served equal parts reunion and finale for many in the building.

St. Anthony, home to one of the nation’s most legendary high school basketball programs, is closing this spring. The school simply ran out of money necessary to keep tuition low, and the Archdiocese of Newark made the decision to end operations. Hurley, who also has served as the school’s president since 2014, spent the last month finding places for his students and teachers to land next year. (He said most of the students have found schools, but locating the teachers has posed a greater challenge.) On Friday, the warm mid-May sun streaming through the gymnasium windows seemed to serve as a constant reminder that summer is on its way—bringing with it the end of St. Anthony’s storied history.

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As much as the school’s basketball team is celebrated, so too is Hurley. A Naismith Hall of Famer, he isn’t merely the basketball coach at St. Anthony. He is the face of St. Anthony. And as his former players jogged up and down the court, calling out screens and shouting out the score with each point, Hurley sat on the sideline, mostly chatting with reporters and friends and occasionally turning to the action.

When one group of former players arrived, Hurley jokingly asked them how many times he kicked them out of the gym during their playing days. Booting players from the gym as punishment became a signature move of the fiery Hurley—sometimes he’d even kick the entire team out. By his estimation, he did so at least twice a season. The ejections not only showed his disciplinarian tendencies, but also the intense desire to stay on the court among the basketball players of St. Anthony.

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Hurley’s teams dominated New Jersey basketball for decades. They won a record 28 state championships and notched eight undefeated seasons under the coach. The program last won out in 2016. But asked to name his best team, Hurley referenced his 1989 team, another undefeated outfit which won a statewide title. That squad was led by Bobby Hurley, the coach’s son and a future star at Duke who went on to play in the NBA. Today, Bobby heads the program at Arizona State.

At St. Anthony, basketball has been a family affair over all these decades. Bobby’s younger brother Dan also played for Dad, graduating two years after Bobby and continuing on to play at Seton Hall. He coaches now, too. And this year, he took Rhode Island to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Following the school’s announcement that it will close, the younger Hurley brother penned a piece for Sports Illustrated, noting the school’s impact on students both on and off the court. 

Bob Sr. said the idea for Friday’s sprawling mess of a reunion game belonged to Dan. An hour after the reunion had commenced, though, Dan hadn’t arrived, apparently not to the father’s surprise. Bob Sr. said he wouldn’t be shocked if the coach of the Rams arrived without basketball shoes. But eventually Dan made his way into the gym wearing athletic shorts and sneakers.

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The school’s spirit seemed plenty alive Friday. The play went on until Bob Sr. had to put a “lid” on at 20 minutes after 6. R.J. Cole, a senior guard at St. Anthony who will play at Howard next year, estimated he played in at least 20 games. If not for Bob Hurley Sr., who knows how many more games would have been played?

Final photos had to be taken and a dinner party awaited. The old players and their coach headed out of the gym, as banners on the walls celebrating the school’s basketball accomplishments looked down on the court and trees waved in the wind outside the gym’s windows. For one last time, Coach Hurley had kicked everyone off the court.

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