Dan Hurley: From a bingo hall to coach of the Los Angeles Lakers?

Inside the White Eagle Bingo Hall is where Hurley first learned the game of basketball

The basketball origin story of Dan Hurley — the man on precipice of walking away from the opportunity to win a third consecutive national title to take over the vaunted, glamorous, celebrity-rich Los Angeles Lakers — was born in a 65-foot long, high-ceiling room attached to an inner-city church rectory built for functions and fundraisers.

The White Eagle Bingo Hall in Jersey City, New Jersey, was a basketball gym only because someone pegged a couple of hoops on either end (one famously 2 inches higher than regulation). It had more in common with the 1890s YMCA where James Naismith first brought out some peach baskets than gleaming Arena in downtown Los Angeles.

It was inside the White Eagle that Dan Hurley — reigning two-time national champ at Connecticut, reported first choice in the Lakers' coaching search — first learned the game. It’s where he first learned the fire that was needed, first learned the fight that it required, first learned the talent and tenacity necessary to separate victory from defeat.

And it was there that he and his older brother, current Arizona State head coach Bobby Hurley, learned that every last tactical advantage, every inch of separation gained on a cut here, a flare there mattered. He learned that the little things count on a court that was some 20-feet shorter than regulation, whose unforgiving walls stood just 2 feet from out of bounds.

How do you get open shots on a court where “open” didn’t exist? How do you box out inside of a box?

By being somehow both tougher and smarter than the other guys.

March 11, 1990: Lincroft, NJ, USA: St. Anthony High School's boys basketball team of Jersey City competes for the Parochial B State championship against St. Peter's of New Brunswick in Lincroft on March 11, 1990. Injured point guard Dan Hurley is carried from the court by his coach and father Bob Hurley Sr. Mandatory Credit: Linda Cataffo-USA TODAY NETWORK
Bob Hurley won 26 New Jersey state titles at St. Anthony High School, including in 1990 when he carried his injured son, Dan, from the court in the championship game. (Linda Cataffo/USA TODAY NETWORK)

This was the basketball office of Bob Hurley, Dan’s father, who spent his days as a Hudson County probation office and his nights as about the most demanding coach basketball ever knew. Bob Hurley took over at St. Anthony’s High School in 1972 and won 26 state titles over the next 39 seasons, sending some 150 players on to college scholarships.

The actual St. Anthony’s high school was down the street, hard by the Holland Tunnel, in a squat four-story, mid-block structure that was so small it didn’t even have the comically limited space The Eagle could offer. Bob Hurley managed to win four national titles at a high school with literally no gym. No wonder he was enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.

St. Anthony’s never played an actual “home” game. That dusty bingo hall was all there was for practice. A couple times a year the boys would grab hammers and help their dad bang protruding nails back into the hardwood floor.

If Dan Hurley leaves Connecticut for the Lakers, it is merely the latest step in the manifest destiny of one of basketball’s most important families. Bob could have gone on to coach college, probably could have gone on to coach in the NBA, but he believed his calling was to never leave Jersey City.

Bob did everything he could for the city and the school, for his family and his friends.

He tried to preemptively help local kids by teaching them discipline through basketball at a high school he fought to keep open and then later tried to help redeem those who slipped past him by working as a probation officer. It was a humble life, but he was passionate about raising money for St. Anthony’s — including nationalizing the story through Adrian Wojnarowski’s epic 2005 book “The Miracle of St. Anthony’s” — until modern realities finally proved too much and the school closed in 2017.

Dan followed the same path at first, spending a decade at nearby Newark St. Benedict’s before finally jumping into the college ranks at Wagner, Rhode Island and then UConn.

It was these last two years where it all truly came together, Hurley taking two different rosters to the same place — a national title. Dan became just the seventh coach to manage that, but his run might be the most impressive. It wasn’t the product of a returning starting five. This was finding the right guys to play the right system under the right demands, twice.

Today’s college basketball isn’t the college basketball of even Billy Donovan (Florida 2006-2007) or Mike Krzyzewski (1991-1992), let alone Henry Iba (Oklahoma State 1945-1946) and John Wooden (1964-1965, 1967-73).

It’s fair to say no coach in basketball did a better job the past two seasons than Hurley and it’s fair to say that at no point in time has the skills required to win in college be so similar to the skills required to win in the NBA. You can’t just land a couple stud recruits. Hurley’s Huskies played the game with both a relentless pace and a relentless efficiency.

It was homage to everything built and learned at the White Eagle, everything from a basketball lab that no less than Bob Knight once arrived at on a recruiting visit, surveyed not just the scene but the ethos it produced and declared, “I love this [expletive] place.”

So now here comes the Lakers — 17 NBA titles, the franchise of Magic and Kobe, of Kareem and Shaq and the Logo, the one with a celebrity row and LeBron James and LA Live.

The Lakers were willing to take a flier on a coach with a big upside — J.J. Redick has been in the mix — and Dan Hurley certainly represents that. He’s also more proven than most.

Can he coach with his same current fire 82 nights a year? Of course not. Does he need to tone down the disputes with rival fans? Of course he does. Can you run NBA practices like the players are teenagers in a bingo hall? Obviously not.

Hurley, 51, is smart. One thing being a high school coach, let alone the son of a successful high school coach, teaches is that circumstances, personalities and roster strengths fluctuate. This isn't your typical college coaching legend. He isn’t the product of a shoe company plying him with an endless stream of elite talent.

The Hurleys are pure basketball; that perfect combination of effort and intelligence that makes the game what it is.

Dan Hurley may be headed to the Lakers. It was probably inevitable.