Friday, March 11, 2011

Practice with St. Anthony's

A True Inside Look at the St. Anthony’s Friars

We have read the articles, seen the news magazine specials, the documentary “THE STREET STOPS HERE”, the interviews with Danny, Bobby Jr. and many of the ex-players that thrived both on and off the court thanks to the skills that Coach Hurley provided them with at St. Anthony’s. But today I was lucky enough to do something that I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do, go to practice.

This wasn’t some casual day before walk thru this was real deal practice leading into tonight’s highly anticipated matchup with the other New Jersey super power, St. Patrick’s. These teams are ranked #1 and #2 in the nation as they enter the 8pm show down to be played at Rutgers University.

As I arrived the team had just begun its scouting session which entailed going over every single detail they could get their hands on about St. Pats from watching hours of tape and seeing the opposition play in person ten times this season. There were absolutely zero signs that St. Anthony’s has just won by sixty points on Monday. With the players seated against the wall behind the baseline and the coaches standing on the court in front of them assistant after assistant chimed in on different aspects of St. Pat’s, from tendencies, to sets, from how to defend certain players and how not to defend certain situations. It was evident these guys do their homework, and the players seemed to be locked in every minute. After each point the assistant speaking would send a slight glance towards Coach Hurley who was seated off to the side and with each glance would be a comment of reinforcement from Coach.

“If we try to block shots and aren’t on the same page with our rotations then we are going to get killed on the offensive glass.”
“One guy, the first help guy needs to step up and take the charge in the chest, we can pick up some easy ones on them guys.”
“We have got to fight them on screens, do not make it easy, bump the hip, not the upper body, as soon as you bump the upper body the dramatics begin and we get hit with the foul.”

Now it does not hurt that Coach Hurley has seven coaches by his side, each playing a different role, but what is so impressive about Coach Hurley is the trust he has in those coaches and how he lets them do their jobs. At the end of the day Coach Hurley knows each and every detail himself but having the quality staff allows him to look at the bigger picture when he needs too, along with adding in the smallest but most crucial details when necessary. For example body positioning needed by his defenders when they are fighting a curl screen or how important it is to consistently play three quarters against certain players in the post.

There is a mission every practice, today it was that much more magnified, as this was the last day of prep before the game of all games. But you couldn’t tell by watching Coach Hurley, his voice consistently steady and commanding, as lets just say he has been here before. I have heard many speak about the fact that coach rarely uses a whistle in practice, as the players need to react to his voice. The moment Coach speaks all action comes to a halt. Whether it is a positive piece of reinforcement like “great job presenting yourself for the pass” or a higher volume gym stopping “what are you doing?” Coach Hurley as mastered the efficiency and power of communication with his kids.

Each segment is planned out to the minute as the clock runs, whether it is for a quick five or longer ten-minute segment. Following the scouting session, warm-up and some on court defensive rules that must be followed against St. Pat’s the team split up, Guards to one end and bigs to the other end. The bigs started on the blocks against coaches with the arm shields fighting for position and finishing to each shoulder aggressively. The guards at game speed working on their mis-direction dribble moves into pull up jumpers. Efficient and energetic, the gym was popping with five to six repetitions happening at once as all coaches were involved and Coach Hurley surveying the gym providing any input he thought was necessary. Again, his voice would always be heard over the sounds of the ball bouncing, sneaker squeaking and players communicating.

On it went, from a ball screen into dribble hand off two man game, to the impressive and multi layered half court sets and out of bounds plays my attention was locked in on the court and the message being sent, “do it the right way.” Practice wound down with the eleven-man drill to wind sprints into free throws. The sprints were to simply get their heart rate up and simulate what it will once again be like to have to step to the line in a big moment, catch your wind and knock down a pair. With each sprint the players pushed harder and harder as they know what is at stake and they know there is also only one way to do things, the right way.  It was evident up close and personal that thirty-nine years of changing lives on and off the court does not just happen, it is a science and a process as each season is a journey of its own.

Coach Hurley is a proud and modest man that has dedicated his life to a craft, a craft that happens to be envied by many but only done in a manner such as this by so few. 

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