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Buffalo’s Hurley takes long road back to NCAA tournament

Buffalo coach Bobby Hurley gestures during practice for an NCAA college basketball tournament second round game in Columbus, Ohio, Thursday, March 19, 2015. Buffalo plays West Virginia on Friday. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — It took more than a decade for Bobby Hurley to return to basketball, and fewer than two seasons for him to lead the Buffalo men’s basketball program to unprecedented heights.

Hurley, a two-time NCAA champion at Duke who made more than $16 million in a six-year NBA career, is the son of Hall of Fame hoops coach Bob Hurley and brother of Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley. It was little brother Dan who had the Bulls’ second-year coach join him at Division I Wagner in 2010, putting Bobby Hurley on the path to Friday’s NCAA tournament game against West Virginia (2:10 p.m. at Nationwide Arena).

“When my pro career ended, I was frustrated,” said Bobby Hurley, whose Bulls won the Mid-American Conference tournament and are seeded No. 12 in the Midwest Region. “A little bit burnt out. My dad was a coach; I grew up with the game. I worked as hard as I could work 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 and was very frustrated. I had a lot of injuries ... so I wanted to do something different.”

Hurley was waived by the Vancouver Grizzlies on Jan. 25, 1999. He averaged 8.9 points in 269 professional games after a stellar collegiate career that ended with him as the Division I all-time leader in assists.

From the time his pro hoops career ended to when his little brother made him a college assistant, Hurley became a thoroughbred race horse owner and dabbled as a scout for the Philadelphia 76ers.

He spent two seasons at Wagner and one at Rhode Island before landing his first head coaching job at Buffalo, which is in the NCAA tournament for the first time ever.

“I always had the itch to coach,” the 43-year-old said Thursday at Nationwide Arena. “The time you need to invest, I was enjoying watching my children grow up and that was part of it. But then I knew I got to a point where I was either going to do it or not do it. And it all fell into place with how my brother was in a transition and I trusted him going into a great situation with him. I knew we would do a great job together, so it all worked out.”

But, he added, “I wish I had done it sooner because I love doing it.”

Hurley’s Bulls are 23-9 and have won the MAC East division title in both his seasons. He is 42-19 with the Bulls, and in the NCAA tournament for the first time since No. 3 seed Duke lost to Jason Kidd and California in the 1993 bracket.

“The time you spend in the gym with the guys, the same competitiveness I brought to the floor as a player, I think I bring as a coach, so it replaces it,” Hurley said. “You also feel like you’re helping kids. Tournaments like this, days like this, it’s worth it.”

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WEST VIRGINIA coach Bob Huggins said his two senior guards, Juwan Staten and Gary Browne, are “both going to go” in Friday’s NCAA tournament game against Buffalo.

The Mountaineers (23-9), seeded fifth in the Midwest Region, will have Staten for the first time since a 71-64 win against Texas on Feb. 24. Staten, a first-team all-Big 12 selection, has been sidelined with groin and left knee injuries.

Browne, who averages 7.0 points and has started 19 of 29 games this season, missed three games and most of another with a bone bruise, high ankle sprain and strained tendons.

“Juwan has been terrific. Gary’s been good,” Huggins said. “Probably not as bouncy as what Juwan’s been, but they’re both good.”

Staten leads West Virginia in points per game (14.5) and assists (125). The Mountaineers were 1-3 down the stretch without the point guard.

“I’ve practiced the last two days with no restrictions and no limitations,” Staten said. “I’m feeling good.”

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BUFFALO HASN’T been immune to hobbled star players. The Bulls’ Justin Moss, who led the MAC in scoring and rebounding and won the conference’s Player of the Year, turned his right ankle in practice March 11 and has been slowly recovering.

“It’s good getting it loose and working on it, but I only sprained it a week ago,” said Moss, who hasn’t missed a game but has been limited. “I’m not expecting it to be 100 percent, but I’m trying to get as close as I can to it.”

Moss, a 6-foot-7 forward, averaged 17.7 points and 9.3 rebounds as a junior. Since the injury, Moss has averaged 7.5 points and 7.5 rebounds on 4 of 13 shooting, but he still managed his 15th double-double (10 points, 11 rebounds) in the MAC championship game against Central Michigan last Saturday.

“When you get on a big stage, you want to prove to the world what you can do,” he said. “We’re a great team. We’ve been through a lot and overcome a lot this year.”