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HURLEY EARNS HIS DUE Whiny kid grows into leader he claimed to be

DURHAM, N.C. — Durham, N.C. -- He has grown up right in front of our eyes, like some teen-age star of a hit television show. From a pouting, whiny 18-year-old who was thought to be overrated to a reasonably mature 21-year-old who some believe could be the best point guard ever to play in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

He has come full circle: As a freshman, Duke's Bobby Hurley was unsuccessful in his attempt to gain control of the team. Now a senior and the undisputed leader of the Blue Devils, Hurley is trying to delegate more responsibility to his teammates in an attempt to lead Duke to its fourth straight Final Four.

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"I think there have been times this year when I've tried to do too much, looking to score instead of getting everybody involved," Hurley said last week. "If we were starting to lose, I would look at some of the other guys and not see confident looks. I felt I had to do it, myself. I put too much pressure on myself."

Will Hurley see his own confident reflection tonight, when fifth-ranked Duke plays host to No. 6 North Carolina? Or will he see what his father, St. Anthony (N.J.) High School coach Bob Hurley Sr., calls "a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom"?

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"I think Bobby has played well. He's learning to play better with this team," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said yesterday. "He's making good decisions. He will play even better as this team learns to be more consistent."

If Duke doesn't win its third straight national championship, Hurley will be able to deal with it a lot better than he might have in the past. If Hurley seems to have changed from the Dead End Kid of the past three years into a no-nonsense, soon-to-graduate, semi-adult, it is for good reason.

"Whatever I go through the next couple of months will be better than what I went through last spring," said Hurley, who is averaging a career-high 17.5 points and an ACC-leading 7.5 assists. "When that happened, I thought my whole life was going down the tubes."

It happened in the early hours of May 5. The 1991-92 championship season had been finished for exactly a month. The excitement from Duke's second straight national championship -- the first time a team had won back-to-back NCAA titles since UCLA in 1972-73 -- had begun to quell. The campus was gearing up for final exams.

Hurley had gone out to a bar for a few beers to relax. To act, well, like a college kid. No spotlight. No post-game interviews. No Dick Vitale to proclaim him "the best point guard ever to play college basketball." On his way home, Hurley was stopped at a checkpoint and pulled over. He was arrested and charged with driving while impaired.

"I felt like I was going to lose everything," said Hurley, who pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of careless and reckless driving, receiving a suspended six-month sentence, a $500 fine and more unwanted attention than he ever thought possible.

But the incident ultimately proved beneficial for Hurley. Just as his embarrassing performance against Nevada-Las Vegas in the championship game pushed him into the gym for the next few months, the DWI became another wake-up call.

It was the start of his own personal rite of passage.

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"It definitely refocused me," said Hurley. "I still think I would have busted my butt, because I knew what was at stake, but it made me a little more determined. . . . It was probably a big turning point for me, as far as growing up and being responsible. It accelerated that process, becoming more of a man."

Hurley had much to focus on: his place on the U.S. Select Team, a developmental group of top college players who were to serve as practice fodder for the Dream Team at its training camp in La Jolla, Calif. Though the incident in Durham stuck in his brain, the idea of going up against Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan and even John Stockton made him even more eager than he had been before.

"I got into the best shape of my life," he said.

On a team that included Michigan's Chris Webber, North Carolina's Eric Montross, Wake Forest's Rodney Rogers and Duke teammate Grant Hill, Hurley made the most overwhelming impression. When he was able to do some of the same things he had done for the Blue Devils, his confidence rose right along with his pro stock.

"I didn't know if I'd be able to stay with players of that caliber," said Hurley, who is being mentioned as a possible lottery pick in this year's NBA draft. "The way I played out there really helped my confidence."

His performance led Jordan, an ex-Tar Heel no less, to tell Krzyzewski, "No wonder you guys win so much."

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A champion's record

The record is almost ridiculous. Since Hurley's freshman year in high school, he has navigated his teams to seven straight championship games. Certainly, he has had help: At St. Anthony, there were Terry Dehere and Jerry Walker, now all-Big East players at Seton Hall. At Duke, he has blended in his talents with Christian Laettner, Grant Hill and Thomas Hill.

But the ball has been in Hurley's hands. Except for the three weeks he missed last year after suffering a broken foot against North Carolina, Hurley has been indomitable. As a sophomore, he played all 40 minutes in the semifinal victory over UNLV and the championship game win over Kansas. As a junior, he played all 45 minutes in Duke's memorable overtime win against Kentucky in the East Regional final.

"A tough little son-of-a-gun," Krzyzewski often has called Hurley.

It hasn't been easy. The road from high school All-American to college star wasn't without its early bumps, detours that permanently might have derailed others with less resolve. Hurley's first season at Duke was played mostly in the shadow of another freshman, Georgia Tech's Kenny Anderson.

Anderson played with a smile, Hurley with a scowl.

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"Through that whole year, I never felt like I was in control of the team," said Hurley. "That was tough, because you have to have control and confidence, and I didn't have either. I also took it for granted as a freshman. I had always played in the championship game, so I didn't think it was that big a deal."

After the 30-point blowout loss to the Runnin' Rebels -- his only NCAA tournament loss in 18 games -- Hurley set out to silence his critics, to forge his own identity apart from that of the high school coach's son. He worked to make his outside shot more than a sometimes thing, and he strengthened his body so that he didn't look like the wrong side of one of those before-and-after ads.

"It was just a matter of learning to work on my own," said Hurley, who always had followed the strict regimen laid out by his father. "I thought I was a really good shooter in high school. My dad made me shoot, but I didn't know what it took."

The outside shot came around. As a sophomore, he hit what turned out to be the key basket in Duke's upset of UNLV, a three-pointer in the final two minutes. Though he is shooting only 43 percent from the field this season, he has made 45 of 106 three-point attempts (42.4 percent).

The strength has come, too. Though he still weighs 165 pounds, Hurley was strong enough to survive a blind-side, 270-pound screen set by Georgia Tech's Malcolm Mackey in the first half of last month's defeat in Atlanta. He played, a bit wobbly, the entire second half.

Being college basketball's all-time assist leader, which Hurley should become before the end of the regular season, will not automatically translate into a long and prosperous NBA career. It didn't help former North Carolina State star Chris Corchiani, who ranks No. 1 and is 89 assists ahead of Hurley. They are about the same size.

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"Hurley's a much better player," said New York Knicks vice president Ernie Grunfeld. "He's got a quicker release on his shot, but he's got more quickness period. The best way to describe Bobby Hurley is he's a winner. He makes big plays in big games."

In the spotlight

After four years on the country's most visible college team, Hurley is accustomed to the glare. He remembers what it was like as a freshman, before the season began, when he was just another student, barely noticed by his fellow Dookies. But the magnitude of his celebrity is, at times, hard to comprehend.

"When I see people in public, it's like, 'Wow, you're Bobby Hurley,' " he said, his pale face starting to show some color (red). "It's hard to believe that I have that impact over somebody."

Hurley is in the public eye more these days. Though it wasn't court-ordered, Hurley has spent many hours since his DWI talking to local high school students. Hurley, whose father is a full-time parole officer, has forced himself to remember the incident.

"It was tough to do. It kind of rekindled all of the emotions," he said. "It was good for me to talk about, to get it out."

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Said Thomas Hill: "I think he's more aware of his surroundings, what he can and cannot do. That's not to say he didn't know how to act in public before. But when something like that happens, it wakes you up."

The emotions Hurley used to wear on his jersey strap still spill out on occasion, as happened Saturday at Cole Field House. After a first-year ACC referee failed to see Hurley calling a timeout in the waning seconds of the first half, the Duke guard gave the official an earful.

But unlike the freshman who might have let such a situation affect him the rest of the game, Hurley came out and helped the Blue Devils take control of what would be a 78-62 victory. Not only has Hurley earned the respect of his teammates, but of opposing coaches and players as well.

"He's worked very hard to get where he is," said Maryland coach Gary Williams. "His freshman year was my first year at Maryland. There were doubts. Now, Bobby Hurley is everything people are saying about him. He's the best college point guard in the country."



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