Bob Hurley remembers it like it was yesterday.
When St. Anthony traveled down to Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia during the 1995-96 high school basketball season to take on Lower Merion High School, Kobe Bryant was the No. 1 senior player in the entire country.
Prior to the game, a former scout from the Boston Celtics went over to Hurley and asked for his thoughts on the 17-year-old, who in just a few months would be drafted into the NBA and end up being one of the greatest players to walk the face of the Earth.
“I was just telling him how I thought he was a tremendous player,” Hurley recalled. “He was so versatile and poised… But I had no idea that he was going to be this great. I could only see that he would have been a really good player in college. But I couldn’t see at 17 years old, by the time he was 19 or 20, what was apparent to everybody.”
Hurley then went into the locker room to share with his team that NBA scouts were at the game to see Bryant play. St. Anthony was without its two best players at the time, Anthony Perry and Rashon Burno, due to missing school and practice the previous day. And since it was a day before the game, if you didn’t practice, you didn’t play.
Even without Burno and Perry, St. Anthony held a halftime lead and eventually pulled out a 15-point victory over Lower Merion, despite 28 points from Bryant. But it was after the game, what Hurley remembered most about Bryant.
“I thought the really nice thing was after the game ended, he asked me if the two of us could sit down and talk,” Hurley said. “And he just wanted me to go over the things that I saw with him, and the things that I thought he needed to get better at.
“When the second half started, we were up one point, and I didn’t think he had everybody ready for the second half of the game,” he added. “We jumped into a 10-point lead. I told him that he should have been all over his team in a dead-even game to win the first four minutes of the third quarter. He came out and played terrific, but he didn’t have the rest of them fired up. So, we got up 10 and maintained that the rest of the game. He thanked me and I told him to keep doing everything he’s doing.”
The previous year, Lower Merion actually made the trip up to Jersey City, and the Friars hosted Bryant as a junior at the No. 28 school in the Heights, which at the time was St. Anthony’s home court.
Hurley said it was unusual because when an out-of-state team would play St. Anthony, the Friars would normally go to them first, and then the following year the opposing team would say they have a scheduling conflict, and they couldn’t make the trip to Jersey City. But Lower Merion’s head coach Gregg Downer called up Hurley and said that they wanted to come up and play in Bryant’s junior year, only if they agreed to go down to Philadelphia for his senior season.
Hurley recalled that “a normal crowd was at the game, and nobody knew that a tremendous talent was in Jersey City that night.” Bryant ended up with 35 points and was phenomenal, according to Hurley.
“In my own household, my wife didn’t think Kobe was that good because we beat them twice in a row,” Hurley said. “And she felt that he should have been able to beat us on his own, which I thought was a little disrespectful to our team because we won the Tournament of Champions both in ’95 and ’96. We had two really good teams with eight or nine kids that ended up playing at the college level.”
When Hurley was at his Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2010, Bryant was there for the Los Angeles Lakers late great owner Jerry Buss, who was also inducted. Hurley recalls due to the madness of that night, he didn’t even know Bryant was there, but he would have loved to share a few minutes with him and just talk to him.
On Sunday afternoon, Hurley was just minutes into his drive leaving UConn’s Harry A. Gampel Pavilion after watching his son Danny coach the Huskies, and he received a call from Danny’s wife, Andrea, with the heartbreaking news that Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were among nine people who had died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.
“Things happen in life, but for three different families to be decimated with this, the effects that it’s going to have on the remaining family members, it’s just something we are going to remember for a long time,” Hurley said. “In its own way, when John Kennedy died in the plane crash, and the biggest one in my life the assassination of John F. Kennedy, this is up there with them. I’ll remember this the rest of my life. On the ride home from UConn, we turned on the radio because we had hours on the way back from the game. And as you piece together all of the information, it was just tragedy.”