Raising NBA game struggle for Hurley Once seen as savior, he rides Kings' bench

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Watching Bobby Hurley push the ball up the court, you are -- for the briefest of moments -- taken back to his days at Duke, where he was the most dominant point guard in college basketball.

Approaching the foul line as the middle man in a three-on-one fast break, the Sacramento Kings point guard cleverly fakes a pass to Olden Polynice on the right, then deftly delivers to Mitch Richmond on the left for an easy lay-up. As the home crowd applauds, Hurley thrusts his fist in the air.

"I just get so pumped up when I'm on the court," Hurley said before the game, his first start of the season, last month against the Washington Bullets, whom the Kings face tonight at 7: 30 at USAir Arena. "Any time I get to play this game, I'm very happy."

If playing time translates to happiness for Hurley, well, at least this season, there is very little for him to feel good about. The seventh pick in the 1993 draft, Hurley was expected to be a savior for a struggling franchise, a John Stockton clone whose unselfish play and drive to win would be contagious.

Perhaps that was too much pressure to place on the small, frail shoulders of the 6-foot, 165-pound Hurley, who was a two-time All-America selection at Duke. Or perhaps it was the result of a 1993 car accident that left him near death and has made him a shadow of the player that he was.

Whatever the reason, Hurley these days finds himself playing little, the No. 3 point guard in a two-point-guard rotation. His is a career that began with so much promise, which has yet to be fulfilled.

"When I first came into the league, things were rolling for me," said Hurley. "Things can really change quick. It's all been kind of a downhill spiral for me."

Few would have predicted that Hurley would be a major NBA player. Still, few also would have predicted the "downhill spiral" that has Hurley, on most nights, glued to the end of the Sacramento bench.

Until reaching the NBA, Hurley stood up to every challenge, from his high school days when, playing for his father, he helped St. Anthony (N.J.) High School to a 32-0 record and a national championship, to his days at Duke, where he led the Blue Devils to NCAA titles in 1991 and 1992.

Hurley left Duke as college basketball's all-time leader in career assists (1,076). He became the Kings' first-round pick in 1993.

"I felt like they wanted me to come here and help turn things around," Hurley said. "I felt like I was in the position to be the future of the team."

And the fans loved him. From the autograph seekers to the young girls screaming his name, Hurley was by far the most popular Sacramento player when the Kings went on the road his first season. It didn't matter that he wasn't exactly tearing up the league, although his 7.0 points and 6.5 assists per game were respectable.

But there was no chance that season to improve on those numbers, which he posted in his first 19 games. Not after the night of Dec. 12, 1993, when Hurley, driving from a home game at ARCO Arena, was hit broadside by a car that was traveling with no lights.

Hurley, who wasn't wearing a seat belt, was thrown from the vehicle. It was a near-fatal accident. His injuries included a detached trachea, multiple broken ribs, a compressed fracture in his back and a torn anterior cruciate knee ligament. He spent the next eight days in intensive care, and the rest of the season either hospitalized or in rehabilitation.

"Let's just say it was a very difficult moment for me," said Hurley, 25, who was a reluctant witness at the trial of the driver of the car that hit him.

Hurley vowed to come back, and showed his desire by putting in long hours at rehabilitation. But he may have come back too soon, because in the 1994-95 season, he was a shell of his former self. In 68 games (starting six), he averaged 4.2 points.

The next season, the Kings traded Spud Webb, essentially handing the starting job to Hurley. But after 12 games, he lost the job to rookie Tyus Edney. Hurley sulked and, although he did record a career-high 17 assists in one game, he ended the season with career-low averages of 3.1 points and 3.0 assists. For the first time in his basketball life, his confidence was shot.

"Yes, I did lose my confidence," Hurley said. "After I worked pretty hard to get myself back out here, things didn't work out as planned. I wasn't playing, and that's when I started to really lose my confidence.

"I started to not like the game for a while."

So, over the summer, Hurley went back to his roots. With his father's encouragement, he once again became a gym rat, giving up time on the golf course to rededicate himself as a basketball player.

"Getting back in the gym, playing in the summer leagues -- that was the best thing that ever happened to me," Hurley said. "I played a lot of pick-up ball. I started to like playing again, and that's what I'm really happy about."

He put in all that work knowing he would be the odd man out at point guard this year, with the Kings having traded for Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf in the off-season.

"He could have come in here, seen Mahmoud and Tyus and hung his head," Sacramento coach Garry St. Jean said. "I went to him and said, 'Hey, we're going to play these two guys.' But instead of getting down, he came in here and competed in camp.

"I've seen him mature as a player and as a person, and he has handled tough situations in as positive a way as he could," St. Jean added. "I've always said that life in the NBA is about timing. If he's patient, his time will come."

So, the new Hurley does not allow himself to get down.

"I know that, regardless of what happens, it's not going to be because I'm not excited or not putting forth any effort," he said.

"My career has been really frustrating at times, especially early on, and I think my patience over the years has gotten a lot better.

"I'm a little more tougher for all the things I've been through," Hurley added. "Still, I want to play. I enjoy playing. When you're bottled up for a while, it's like you're going to explode."

Bullets tonight

Opponent: Sacramento Kings

Site: USAir Arena, Landover

Time: 7: 30

TV/radio: HTS/WWRC (980 AM)

Outlook: This game completes the two-game season series; the Bullets won the game at Sacramento on Dec. 16. This is the second of a three-game road trip for the Kings, who beat Philadelphia last night. G Mitch Richmond (24.4 ppg) is the leading scorer for the Kings. The Bullets are coming off a tough overtime loss in Atlanta, where the Hawks extended their home winning streak to 18 games. This is the first of two straight home games for the Bullets, who will then leave on a West Coast trip. Washington is 10-9 at home.

Pub Date: 1/25/97

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