NEW YORK — Dan Hurley admits it was tempting to take the Rutgers job back in April.
He would have been able to return to his home state of New Jersey, take over his dream job and try to rebuild the program in the wake of the Mike Rice scandal.
But after consulting with family and friends, Hurley decided it wasn’t the right move and opted to remain at Rhode Island, where he signed an extension through 2019-20.
“New Jersey and my family means everything to me, but the bottom line is I made a commitment to a place that I have a level of belief in that we can become a great, great program,” Hurley told SNY.tv at Atlantic 10 Media Day at the Barclays Center, where the Rams were picked ninth out of 13 teams.
“I think Rutgers got the absolute right guy for them at the time, the place they were at as a program and I think you see that in the results that Eddie’s had in recruiting.”
After Hurley opted not to come home to Rutgers, the school hired Eddie Jordan, a former Rutgers star and NBA coach. Jordan has had his own speedbumps since taking over but has now stabilized things. He has landed several commits for 2014 and ’15, and recently got the good news that both Iowa State transfer Kerwin Okoro and Pitt transfer J.J. Moore would be eligible this season when Rutgers joins the American Athletic Conference for one season before heading to the Big Ten.
Hurley, meantime, returns to a team that is on the upswing in the A-10.
Xavier Munford, the A-10’s top returning scorer, made the A-10 Preseason Second Team, while a trio of transfers figure to have a big impact: forwards Gilvydas Biruta (Rutgers) and Jarelle Reischel (Rice) and guard DeShon “Biggie” Minnis (Texas Tech).
Rhody also adds highly touted freshman guard E.C. Matthews and forward Hassan Martin of Staten Island Curtis.
“Listen, it’s exciting,” said Hurley, whose team went 8-21 in his first season after leaving Wagner. “We didn’t have enough last year. We played our hearts out, we didn’t have enough. But anytime that you can put out on the court two potential All-League players in Gil Biruta and and Xavier Munford, and a potential Rookie of the Year in E.C. Matthews, and a number of other guys that have made great improvement or come in with a really good rep, our fortunes have changed really, really quickly.”
“Our staff’s done a great job and we feel like we’re in the mix.”
The 6-foot-8 Biruta has endured his own twists and turns over the years.
A native of Lithuania, he attended three high schools in three countries before landing at St. Benedict’s Prep, where he played two seasons under Hurley.
He then committed to former Rutgers coach Freddie Hill, who was later fired, but opted to remain committed to Rice before the 2010-11 season.
He played two seasons under Rice but was repeatedly verbally and physically abused — as the now-famous videos show.
Rice essentially made Biruta his whipping boy, though Biruta has been reluctant to speak about it.
“What happened, happened,” Hurley said.
Biruta transferred to Rhode Island where he was reunited with his high school coach, only to have his high school coach then consider departing to go back to Rutgers.
He hasn’t played a college game since March of 2012, when Rutgers lost to Villanova in the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
“I’m thrilled for Gil because he’s got a chance to write the next chapter and he’s going to write the next chapter of his career at a place where he’s comfortable, he’s confident,” Hurley said. “I think his versatility as a forward is going to be something that could potentially be startling to people this year when we get to the business of playing.
“He’s added a lot to his game and we’re playing a style of basketball that can accenuate that. So I think he’s got a chance to be one of the best college basketball stories of the season.”