Before his team left to play Kentucky early this season, second-year Buffalo coach Bobby Hurley put on the ring he received for helping win back-to-back national championships at Duke in 1991 and 1992.
It was the first time he had worn it since becoming a Division I head coach.
"I said, 'I think I need something extra here for my confidence to go into that place,'" Hurley recalled of his team's Nov. 16 trip to Rupp Arena. "And so I put it on as subtle reminder of what I used to be capable of doing to try to build my confidence and boost it as much as it could for my team."
At halftime, Buffalo led 38-33.
Though the top-ranked Wildcats would outscore Buffalo 38-14 in the second half, Hurley decided to keep wearing the diamond-crusted ring. It was on his left hand Thursday at Nationwide Arena, where the 12th-seeded Bulls will take on fifth-seeded West Virginia in Buffalo's NCAA tournament debut Friday. The winner faces the winner of fourth-seeded Maryland's game against No. 13 Valparaiso.
Still the NCAA's all-time assist leader, Hurley got into the family business by joining his younger brother, Danny, as an assistant at Wagner College on Staten Island, N.Y. in 2010 and then following him to the University of Rhode Island. Their father, Bob Sr., is a Hall of Fame high school coach in New Jersey.
Hurley took a rather circuitous road back to college basketball after his career ended at Duke. A first-round draft pick of the Sacramento Kings in 1993, Hurley's NBA career was derailed later that year when his car was broadsided in an accident near Arco Arena. Hurley, who was not wearing a seat belt, sustained multiple injuries. He was never the same player and retired in 1998.
"When my pro career ended, I was frustrated," he said Thursday. "A little bit burnt out. I worked as hard as I cold to get where I had gotten playing and it just didn't work out for me professionally. I didn't achieve anything close to what I intended on. I wanted to do something different."
Hurley had a little success as breeding horses, putting Songandaprayer in the 2001 Kentucky Derby, before eventually running into financial problems that led to the foreclosure on his stable. He credits his younger brother, who played at Seton Hall, for teaching him how to run a college team.
Admittedly, some of his current players were unfamiliar with Hurley when he was hired by Buffalo athletic director Danny White, whose father Kevin is the AD at Duke.
"I heard the name before. I wasn't really familiar with what he had done," sophomore point guard Shannon Evans said. "But as I got further in my recruitment process, I did my research so I knew he was a good player."
Miles ahead of schedule
Coming out of Notre Dame Prep in Massachusetts, former Dunbar standout Daxter Miles Jr. didn't know exactly what his role would be as a freshman at West Virginia. Not that Miles, who was an All-Metro player as a senior at Dunbar, was lacking for confidence.
Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins joked on several occasions during the season that Miles, a 6-foot-3 point guard, claimed the starting job early on on sheer will.
"Whenever I asked for five guys, Dax would run out," Huggins said of Miles, who started all 32 games.
Miles is coming into Friday's NCAA tournament game on a roll. Over the past five games, Miles has averaged a little over 14 points per game, including a season-high 23 in a 76-69 overtime loss at No. 9 Kansas on March 3. Miles is averaging 7.3 points for the season.
His late-season emergence as a scorer, along with fellow freshman Jevon Carter, coincided with star guard Juwan Staten's knee injury. Staten, who averaged 14.5 points and 4.6 assists, is expected back for Friday's game against Buffalo. The Mountaineers have lost three of four games in his absence.
"I stepped up and took the challenge," Miles said of his increased productivity. "It worked out for me, because I needed to wet my feet a little bit more, I had to show everybody that even without our senior guard that the two freshmen, me and Jevon Carter, can play a little bit."
Carter scored a season-high 25 points in a loss at then-No. 19 Baylor on Feb. 28.
Asked what it will be like to play in the NCAA tournament, Miles said, "One word to describe it — amazing. I always dreamed about it. Just soaking up each moment."
Every March, Bryce Drew's buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Valparaiso's upset of third-seeded Mississippi in the opening round in 1998 is among the highlights that play on NCAA tournament coverage.
"Everybody on our team has seen it multiple times," Crusaders star sophomore forward Alec Peters said Thursday. "It's hard to count how many times we've seen it."
There are pictures of what is simply known as "The Shot" throughout the campus of the Indiana school. But it isn't on recruiting brochures that Drew — now in his fourth year as the team's coach — sends out.
Nor is "The Shot" — which came off a long inbounds pass and then a purposeful tip to Drew on the wing — in the team's current playbook. "But it's definitely something we could draw up if we needed to in the last seconds," Drew said Thursday.
Said Peters: "I don't think he has to preach on what kind of moment he had in that situation and how we can achieve the same thing. I think the biggest thing that we have to go through thinking is that we want to creat our own moment. We want to have something like that we can remember just like he did."