Trainer legend Bob Hurley basks in the glory of St. Peter’s Cinderella Run

Monday was a day for all Saint Peter’s grads to do credit to their school and nickname, all peacock pride, all dug deep into drawers for crumpled old sweatshirts, combed their closets for dusted old windbreakers, to see if they could still squeeze in.

For Bob Hurley, Class of 1971, that meant grabbing a baseball cap before volunteering to work at the Explore School on Ninth Avenue in Jersey City, where he did what he’d done his entire adult life: the town’s kids are teaching about basketball, how to play it right and well. For 45 years, he did so, winning nearly 1,200 games and 28 state titles at St. Anthony High, a career that earned him the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame.

Ever since this school closed its doors, it has been in this vocational middle school, a free program sponsored by the Hurley Family Foundation, and the message is still the same if the intensity isn’t.

“I now call it my ‘grandfathered’ approach to coaching,” he said, laughing.

But on Monday, before the kids got into action, they admired Hurley’s hat because they were all caught up in the wonderful whirl of Saint Peter’s beating and then solidly defeating Kentucky on Thursday in one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history Murray State on Saturday to advance to Friday’s NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game against Purdue in Philadelphia.

Shaheen Holloway and Bob Hurley
St. Peter’s coach Shaheen Holloway speaks with former St. Anthony High School coach Bob Hurley Sr.
Bill Kostroun/New York Post

“The energy is what Jersey City is about,” Hurley said. “The kids, the adults, in this city of 300,000 people, it’s such a phenomenal story because they’re so proud that this happened here. The people here in the city radiate courage and it shows in this team. Many of these kids survived the New Jersey and New York high school struggles. Do you think they’ll be scared of Kentucky? Or by anything?”

Hurley played freshman ball at Saint Peter’s, averaging 20 points per game, and he was a contemporary and friend of most of the “run baby run” Peacocks who gave Saint Peter’s its earlier moment of glory, a run to the 1968 NIT Finals topped by a 100-71 stomp from Duke. That included Elnardo Webster, the greatest player in school history, whose last Tuesday provided a sobering counterbalance to the campus joy.

Saint Peter fans
Fans gather at Saint Peter’s Jersey City campus to send the team to the Sweet 16 in Philadelphia.
Stephen Yang

“Such a great player,” Hurley said. “Such a great team. And Jersey City fell in love with these guys. They would bring 6-7,000 people to the old armory. It was wonderful.”

Hurley never made it to college, but even that comes with a happy star attached. He spent this sophomore winter helping the CYO team for his St. Paul’s community. That was his first taste of coaching. Think of it as akin to the first time someone handed Michelangelo a brush.

“The next year I was offered the position as a freshman at St. Anthony,” he said. “And I was gone.”

Hurley is not only blown away by the way Saint Peter’s wins, but also how it plays. He has known coach Shaheen Holloway for years and is particularly pleased with the toughness with which Holloway’s children play, their resilience.

“For me, the best thing anyone ever said about our team was that on defense when we were playing really well, we felt like we had seven people out there because we were rotating and helping, and yet felt it feels like nobody’s ever opened it,” Hurley said. “And you look at what Saint Peter’s is doing and it’s exactly the same. It’s just amazing to watch.”

St. Peter's basketball team
Saint Peter’s basketball team is sent to the Sweet 16.
Stephen Yang

Like all of Jersey City, like all Saint Peter alums — and like all Instant Cinderellas fans — Hurley will be watching the Peacocks closely on Friday as they take on Purdue and their tough 1-2 tandem of Jaden Ivey and 7-. Foot-4 Zach Edey.

For Hurley, that first step came with some conflict last week, because at the exact same time the Peacocks beat Kentucky, he was sitting at Buffalo’s KeyBank Center watching Connecticut — coached by his younger son Danny — receive a similar gut punch Punch through another glass slipper, state of New Mexico.

“I used to watch the score updates all the time, but it hurt me watching UConn,” Hurley said. “However, when I got back to the hotel and saw Saint Peter’s pull it out, I was smitten for them. What a story.”

The sweatshirts and the windbreakers and the baseball caps aren’t going back into storage for any St. Peter’s alums, certainly not until Friday night. And who knows? Maybe they need them for Sunday too.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned,” Hurley said, “it’s that nothing in this game is predetermined. I can promise you that. I can promise you that St. Peter’s Basilica will appear.” Trainer legend Bob Hurley basks in the glory of St. Peter’s Cinderella Run


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