It’s safe to say that Bob Hurley didn’t exactly ring in the new year of 2014 with a celebration.
First, the legendary Hall of Fame St. Anthony basketball coach had to deal with a major flood in his downtown Jersey City condominium on New Year’s Eve, when his upstairs neighbor left the lights on a Christmas tree, causing a fire that sent the sprinkler system into a frenzy, causing water to cascade down through the walls of his home, ruining several pieces of furniture and the floors.
“I was running around the apartment, trying to save everything,” Hurley said. “I had a barrel in our bedroom that became half full of water.”
It forced the Hurley family to temporarily reside in a hotel. That was just the beginning of the headaches caused by flooding that Hurley had to endure.
In mid-January, pipes burst at the M.E.T.S. Charter School, the practice and home game location for St. Anthony and the site of the Coach Bob Hurley Court, causing the hardwood floor to warp and buckle. It made the floor unplayable for the remainder of the season.
Years ago, the Friars had vagabond status, with no place to truly call home. They practiced at an old bingo hall called White Eagle Hall on Newark Avenue and played scheduled home games wherever they could, including the Jersey City Armory, Dickinson High School and other public schools all over Jersey City.
For the last decade, they have called the facility at M.E.T.S. Charter home. It’s located just two blocks from St. Anthony High, a perfect spot, a true home court – that was, until the flood woes last month.
So it has forced the fabulous Friars to be true road warriors once again, calling two Jersey City public schools (P.S. 7 and P.S. 17) home for games and five different locations in Jersey City and even Bayonne for practices.
It’s a situation that Hurley was once regularly accustomed to – taking his team all over the place – but it’s a scenario that the current team had no prior experience for.
“I think that this has been a lot harder than the past,” Hurley said. “Back then, we had a schedule in place and rarely was there a surprise. But this situation happened in the first week of January and not only lost the home gym for games, but we have never had a consistent place to work out.”
It’s forced athletic director Buddy Matthews, in just his second year at the job after a long career as a coach and administrator at Hoboken High, to have his phone constantly glued to his ear, making arrangements to rent vans to transport the Friars to and fro.
Hurley said that several people, like new Jersey City Recreation director Ryan Strother, John Chester of the Jersey City Board of Education and Tom Jacobson of the Bayonne Board of Education, have helped in accommodating the Friars in their time of need.
“People have been stepping up to help us,” Hurley said. “It’s not easy at this point of the year for schools to find holes in their schedules in order to help us. It’s been a real challenge.”
Hurley said that he has taken his team to places like P.S. 37, where the Friars go twice a week for practice, P.S. 28, another twice a week locale, as well as P.S. 14 and Bayonne High School in Bayonne.
It’s never the same place two days in a row. That also goes for home games.
“I’m not complaining,” Hurley said. “This is just adapting to circumstance. It is what it is. This has just been difficult.”
When you add in the fact that the Friars have lost practice time and scheduled games due to the rampage of snowstorms that have engulfed the area, it’s been a brutal go for the Friars.
“I think the kids have been good dealing with it,” Hurley said. “It was a novelty for them at first. The kids had to be reminded that it’s not always like this. The snow has definitely changed things. We had games we lost to the snow and then tried to schedule others. We go to practice one day and not sure who we’re going to play the next.”
For example, the Friars lost a game with the Burlington Life Center due to the snow last week. It was the fifth time the Friars lost a game to the snow this season alone.
Incredibly, the Friars were traveling to face Paul VI of Haddonfield Saturday, when Hurley learned from Matthews that they had a chance to play East Brunswick on Monday, a game the Friars won by one point, 56-55, led by Markis McDuffie’s 22 points. On the same trip, Matthews informed Hurley that he scheduled a game this Saturday against Bergen Catholic.
“We’re booking games while we’re driving to games,” Hurley said. “I asked my assistant coaches, ‘Do you think anyone else is doing this?’”
The NJSIAA released the brackets for the upcoming state basketball tournament and the Friars gained the top seed in the Non-Public B North bracket. The 16-4 Friars earned a first-round bye and will face the winner of Dwight-Englewood/Morristown-Beard in the quarterfinals March 4. While every other top seed will enjoy a home court advantage throughout the playoffs, the Friars unfortunately will not. The Friars will more than likely play their games at P.S. 17.
“We know we’ll be in Jersey City,” said Hurley, who recently earned the 1,100th victory in his storied Hall of Fame career. “We just won’t be in our own gym. It just produces negative energy. We’re not worried about it now. There’s nothing we can do about it. Since we’ve been in so many gyms recently, it really doesn’t matter. We’ve already played our toughest schedule ever this year.”
Hurley likes the way his team has performed recently.
“Unquestionably, we’ve improved,” Hurley said. “We’ve figured out a rotation we’re comfortable with. It’s been hard to have the kids feel comfortable with the schedule we’ve played. It hasn’t given this team a chance to build its confidence.”
The Friars have also had to endure the loss of 6-foot-8 sophomore center Taurean Thompson to a broken foot.
Senior guard Tarin Smith has been a steady leader for the Friars, averaging a little more than 14 points per game.
“He’s done a great job in weathering this team’s highs and lows,” Hurley said of the 6-foot-1 senior point guard Smith, who has a ton of NCAA Division I scholarship offers to sort out after the season. “Cheddi Mosely [already committed to Boston University] has been helping Tarin with the leadership and he’s done a very good job.”
The one concern Hurley has entering the state tourney will be injury and Mosely is battling a bruised heel that might keep him out against Bergen Catholic this weekend.
“We hope to stay injury-free,” Hurley said. “That’s the biggest thing we have to worry about right now. We’re playing good defense right now, much tougher defense than we played all season. We’re playing more consistently well lately.”
The only inconsistent thing about St. Anthony these days is where the Friars are going to play on a given day.
“It hasn’t been a normal year,” said Hurley, who was still worrying about renovations to his home.
The only sense of normalcy will come next month if the Friars are once again battling for a state championship.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.