The Dan Hurley Era didn’t get off to the best start.
Prior to the Nov. 9 game against Norfolk State at the Ryan Center, the University of Rhode Island men’s basketball team’s first-year head coach either didn’t know or couldn’t remember the passcode to open the door to the locker room. He stood at the door and looked for help before wandering up and down the halls before he finally found someone who could open the door moments before he gave his first official pregame speech.
It was the opening night for the coach that is in Kingston to bring the Rams back to the glory of the Jim Harrick years, sans the NCAA violations. At this point, URI fans would take the Al Skinner years – a program with moderate success and an NCAA berth every three or four years.
Fans’ patience wore thin with Hurley’s predecessor, Jim Baron, but there were no signs of animosity following Friday’s 67-55 loss to Norfolk State – one of the darlings of the 2012 NCAA Tournament – or Monday’s 69-50 loss to Virginia Tech, which plays in the ultra-competitive Atlantic Coast Conference, among the fan base.
Fans will give him time and Hurley will need it.
But he seems to care less about how the fans react or how much time he has and more about how his team plays.
“I don’t really know what honeymoon phase is,” said Hurley following the loss to Norfolk State. “We have an expectation when we go down on the court that we want to compete hard and win.”
It was a good start despite the result. The Ryan Center wasn’t packed for Hurley’s debut, the opening-night crowd was better than its been the last few seasons where a Friday night, early-November game can sometimes be less packed than the watering holes in downtown Narragansett.
The loss to Norfolk State and VaTech wasn’t on Hurley. You can coach players up all you want but you can’t coach them to not miss shots. The Rams hit 15 of 53 from the floor against Norfolk State and 20 of 59 against the Hokies on Nov. 12, but there was a lot of inexperience taking those shots.
“The second half, rather than ball-share a little more, guys wanted so badly to win the game that at times the shot selection wasn’t what we wanted,” Hurley said. “That’s where we’re going. There are guys that are shot makers and we know moving forward there’s not going to be many games like this.”
URI brings back one player who started the whole season last year in Mike Powell and he’s just a sophomore. Senior Nikola Malesevic started before missing time with a broken hand last season; senior Andre Malone was in and out of the lineup and the rotation under Baron; TJ Buchanan saw time off the bench; senior Ryan Brooks has barely gotten off the bench in his time in Kingston.
All these players will be crucial to the Rams’ success this season and some are taking advantage of the new regime. Malesevic looked like the player he was his sophomore season after scoring 26 points and pulling down nine boards against Norfolk State; Brooks played 24 minutes but showed off athleticism in most of his 24 minutes that he only showed in spurts last winter.
“I liked seeing a guy like Ryan Brooks give second and third and fourth efforts and be someone different than he’s been at this university,” Hurley said. “Every time we get on the court we want to win the game.”
The newcomers are going to have to become legit players sooner rather than later. Junior transfer Xavier Munford looks like a legitimate scoring threat, although he needs to improve his shot selection after going 3-for-19 Friday and improved to 11-for-22 Monday.
Graduate student transfer Alwayne Bigby – who came in from Northeastern – Buchanan, a sophomore, and freshmen Mike Aaman and Jordan Hare have been used off the bench so far but only Aaman has played more than 12 minutes; the 6-foot-8 freshman played 23 in Monday’s loss to Virginia Tech.
If Hurley has his way, his reserves might not see that much time at all even after the starters looked tired at times during Friday’s opener.
“This is going to sound crazy, but we have to look at our nutritional approach to today because I’m used to having my better players, our key guys be able to give us 38 minutes of relentlessness,” Hurley said. “We have to do a better job during the day of hydrating our guys and making sure they’re eating the right things so we can avoid those types of issues. Quite honestly, we practice longer and harder than that game we were playing. I think that’s something we’ll fix.”
Fix is an important word this season because everything, except the school’s traditionally gorgeous uniforms, needs to be fixed.
Fans know it. The team knows it. Hurley knows it.
“I feel like every game I’ve ever played in or coached in I’ve felt pressure to win,” Hurley said. “I live my life in the sport where winning and high expectations came with it.”
It’s something URI fans are more than happy to hear.