Danny Hurley has done a masterful job coaching Rhode Island basketball. The former Seton Hall star guard took over the Rams in 2012 after guiding Wagner for two seasons.
Last season, Rhode Island had an amazing run to close out the regular campaign, culminating with an Atlantic-10 conference tournament championship and a trip to the NCAA tourney. This season, Hurley’s squad ran away and hid. The Rams cruised to the A-10 regular season crown and went all the way to the title game in their league tournament. This team looks like they’re poised to become a regular when it comes to college hoops postseason participants.
Hurley’s teams play intelligently. They play with passion. They play like a Hurley. They play like Danny, the Pirate. They play like Danny’s brother Bobby, the former Duke superstar and current Arizona State coach. They play like Bob Hurley Sr. would want them to play. The legendary St. Anthony’s high school coach, father to Danny and Bobby, clearly instilled basketball grit in his sons. Danny Hurley seems to live and die with every Rhode Island possession. He often bangs the sole of his shoe on the floor while his Rams pass by him in transition. He is engaged at all times. He coaches like a man who understands what his players are going through because he was that player years before. Hurley’s style suits Rhode Island.
The Rams earned a 7-seed in the NCAA tournament this season. They’ll square off with 10th seeded Oklahoma in the Midwest Region Thursday. Rhode Island has a real shot in that game. Throw in a few upsets and it could be Hurley vs Hurley a couple of rounds later. Bobby Hurley’s Sun Devils are the 11-seed in the Midwest. The chances of the brothers colliding in this particular tournament are slim but the mere possibility brings more intrigue to an already captivating Big Dance.
The last two seasons have been very successful for Rhode Island. The quality of basketball has been high. The young men on the team have also proven to be quality individuals.
In one of Rhode Island’s final road games of the regular season, that high character was on full display. The Rams shined even before the opening tip off while visiting La Salle. The Rams and Explorers lined up for the singing of our national anthem. A little girl stood on the court, holding a microphone ready to belt out the Star Spangled Banner. As the crowd stood, anticipating the start of the song however, there was only silence. At first it appeared that maybe no one gave the child the go ahead yet. Perhaps, the mic wasn’t on. Then the realization hit. She had stage fright. She was frozen. About a minute went by, but it seemed so much longer. Finally, La Salle played an instrumental version of the anthem and the girl remained on the court until the music ended. La Salle’s public address announcer thanked the girl for giving it a try and invited her back to try again. It was handled nicely. The girl was a trooper. She held in the tears. No small feat for a young kid in such a situation.
What was particularly striking was the response Rhode Island had to the performance that never happened. After the anthem recording ended, virtually every Rhode Island player went over to the girl and offered a kind word, a hug, or a fist bump. The Rams had a big game about to start, yet they still were able to take the time to reach out to a child. They took a moment to show some human kindness. These guys know a thing or two about performing in front of large crowds. They understood.
In the era of Kaepernick and the NFL kneelers, it was refreshing to watch a positive story unfold regarding our flag. The way the players showed compassion toward a young child is what being united should be all about.
Now, let’s not get too carried away. Rhode Island’s gesture hardly erases any of the antics of the anthem protesters. In fact, that same night when I returned to my car, I found both of my Trump stickers were partially ripped off my back window. It took the basement dwelling creeps two years and two months to finally vandalize my stickers. Considering the places I park on a regular basis, that’s a pretty good run. But the violation still feels wrong. It’s pathetic that people take our exceptional country for granted and act that way.
Despite the fact that a snowflake was fondling my vehicle while I was in the arena, it didn’t erase the good feeling I got from what the Rams did for one little American who needed a boost. Someone was acting horribly outside the building, but a group of student athletes inside were doing everything just right.
The Rams probably get some of that compassion from their parents. Some of it may come from their coach. Whatever the case may be, Rhode Island has shown us enough as players and as people to make them an easy team to root for this March.