By EVAN CRAWLEY
KINGSTON — When it comes to University of Rhode Island men’s basketball, you would be hard pressed to find two fans with a better knowledge of the program than Warren Lutzel and Dick Moore.
The two sat together to watch the introduction of new coach Dan Hurley Wednesday at Keaney Gymnasium, a place where they had watched the Rams play since the facility opened in December of 1953.
“I would say 40 years, 40 or 50 years, something like that,” said Lutzel of how long they had been coming to games for.
“When this was first built in ’54 I had four seats,” added Moore.
Moore donned the URI jersey himself, suiting up for legendary Rams’ coach Frank Keaney from 1944-45 before heading off to fight in World War II.
As far as first impressions go, Lutzel and Moore liked what they saw from Jim Baron’s replacement, even if they did appreciate the former coach’s effort in his 11 years in Kingston.
“We liked Baron, he did a good job. He tried hard, and he was a good man too,” Moore said. “He’s very energetic, and I think Baron probably was too, but I think he’s going to do a good job.”
The feelings from most at Keaney Gym Friday was an appreciation for the effort Baron put in during his tenure at URI, but that it was time for a changing of the guard.
“Baron was a great coach,” said Travis Juriansz, a graduate of the class of 2010. “He did a lot of great things, but it just got to a point where it seemed like he was stuck.”
In his time at URI Juriansz volunteered as a student manager with the men’s basketball team and right away he could see the difference from the two coaches.
“They’re obviously two very different kinds of people. Baron is very old school, while Hurley seems a little bit more in tune with what these kids are used to, maybe a little bit younger is a good way to put it,” Juriansz said.
“I thought he [Hurley] was well-spoken, he obviously has a clear vision of what he expects and I think he has what it takes to get those things moving pretty quickly.”
One of the things that Hurley is going to have to do next season is find a way to get more fans into the Ryan Center to watch his team play.
James Haggerty, a freshman at URI from River Edge, NJ, says he went to about 10 games last season and was a little surprised to see how empty the arena was.
“It was a little less than I expected, I expected a little more,” Haggerty said. “It was my first season going to games and I thought the crowd would be pretty jumpy, but it really wasn’t. It was OK, it was mediocre at best.”
Hurley may have only been hired Monday, but already Haggerty has noticed the change around campus.
“I think the excitement around campus is going to be great,” Haggerty said. “I was actually eating lunch in the cafeteria today and everyone was talking about it. Everyone knows that we hired a great coach, and that’s basically what’s going on around campus.”
Whether or not fans will pack the Ryan Center next fall still remains to be seen, but someone like Moore - who has seen coaches come and go in Kingston for over half a century - is well aware of the secret to fan attendance.
“You have to win,” Moore said. “If you don’t win, you don’t get the people there.”
Winning will undoubtedly bring more fans, but in order to succeed in college basketball you have to recruit quality players.
Having a résumé like URI’s new coach won’t hurt on the recruiting trail, and neither will having the last name Hurley.
“To win you need recruiting, and I think a coach coming from New York and having resources down there with the kids in New Jersey and the inner city of New York means a lot,” Lutzel said.
“The family has a great basketball tradition, and it was great to see Bobby [Hurley] here, who I had seen many years ago playing basketball for Duke. I think the tradition means a lot, and I enjoyed his talk.”
Who knows if Dan Hurley can turn the men’s basketball program around, but so far, Ram fans young and old seem to think the URI brass made the right choice.