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Berry Tramel: Danny Hurley gives college basketball a big boost by staying at UConn



College basketball received some good news Monday. Of course, some would say that any news is good news for campus hardwoods, since the sport seems to be slipping daily from the national mindset.

But no reason to quibble. Let’s stick with the good news angle.

Danny Hurley is staying put. He picked March Madness over Showtime. Storrs, Connecticut, over downtown Los Angeles. The Big East over the Western Conference. Connecticut governor Ned Lamont over Lakers owner Jeanie Buss. Alex Karaban over LeBron James. The transfer portal over NBA free agency. Happy over money.

Hurley rejected a six-year, $70-million contract offer to coach the Lakers, deciding instead to stay at UConn, where he’s won two straight NCAA championships (and admittedly is about to get a huge pay raise).

Turns out, a sport that’s been reeling in recent years, bleeding interest and coaches and quality ballplayers, can indeed strike back. College basketball kept its new biggest name; Hurley next season can join John Wooden as the only men’s hoops coaches with three straight national titles.

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Good for basketball, and good for Hurley, who despite all his pedigree and all the Laker hyperbole that he would be supported and respected, would have been on the LA hot seat before the ink was dry on that $70 million deal.

The Lakers are like Texas A&M. They spare no expenses when it comes to finding a coach, but that means they spare no expenses in getting rid of a coach.

Darvin Ham took a so-so Lakers roster to the Western Conference finals last season; now he’s out of a job after two years. Frank Vogel coached the Lakers to the 2020 NBA crown his first season; he was fired two years later.

Luke Walton lasted three years as the Laker coach and Byron Scott two, though neither so much as produced a winning record. The Lakers are no respecter of coaches. They fire you quickly, lose or win.

Mike D’Antoni was fired after almost two years coaching LA. Mike Brown was fired five games into his second season. George Steinbrenner had more patience.

Only Phil Jackson this century has stayed ahead of the Laker posse; Jackson coached 11 Laker teams over a 12-year period. He sat out the 2004-05 season to see what boredom was like. Jackson won five NBA titles in those 11 seasons, which can be done when Kobe Bryant teams with Shaquille O’Neal or Pau Gasol, all in their prime.

But it’s the Lakers, and it’s a lot of money, and every coach thinks he can be the one who stops the LA chaos. So I figured Hurley was a goner from Storrs, the Connecticut village that has no stores.

College basketball, somewhat like football, has become rather testy grounds for coaches, who are having to work for their exorbitant salaries, either daily keeping their players content so as to not to transfer, or raid the portal themselves to rebuild rosters.

Rounding up the money to pay big-time players is an onerous job, too. The transfer portal and name/image/likeness has sent many a prominent coach to the broadcast booth or the golf course.

Villanova’s Jay Wright. North Carolina’s Roy Williams. Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim. OU’s own Lon Kruger. All have left college hoops in recent years.

Some had the vision before the reality struck. Florida’s Billy Donovan, Butler’s Brad Stevens, Michigan’s John Beilein. All took NBA jobs, where the security is less but so are the headaches.

Long ago, star power shifted from players to coaches in college basketball, and now even the big-names coaches are few.

But along comes Hurley, with royal pedigree in the sport from his dad, New Jersey high school legend Bob Hurley, and brother, Bobby Hurley, of Duke point guard fame. Danny Hurley has UConn roaring again and has become the face of college basketball. Now he’s turned down the Lakers, giving UConn, the Big East, the NCAA and the sport itself a bounce in its step.

Hurley’s decision was a reminder that there’s a future in college basketball. That the NBA can’t always have the pick of any player or coach it wants. A reminder that some coaches have the sense to appreciate what they have and aren’t sucked in by bright lights and big contracts.

Danny Hurley made a good decision, and college basketball is the better for it.

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