UConn coach returns to NJ for game honoring 9/11 victims

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              UConn head coach Dan Hurley yells from the sideline during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against UMass-Lowell, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2018, in Storrs, Conn. (AP Photo/Stephen Dunn)
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STORRS, Conn. (AP) — UConn basketball coach Dan Hurley was teaching high school history at St. Benedict’s in Newark, New Jersey on Sept. 11, 2001, when he looked out the window and saw smoke rising from the World Trade Center across the Hudson River in New York.

“I remember probably within 10 minutes of seeing the smoke, just being called into the auditorium and just the chaos of what was happening on the way into the assembly,” he said. “Then everyone got this message.”

One of Hurley’s friends would lose his brother, a New York firefighter, in the terrorist attacks that day. Hurley had just started at the prep school as a teacher and the basketball coach. He took several of St. Benedict’s international students into his home while the school was temporarily closed during the ensuing chaos.

Hurley returns to Newark on Saturday, his first visit back home since taking the UConn job.

The Huskies (7-2) will play No. 11 Florida State (7-1) just blocks from St. Benedict’s at the Prudential Center in the Never Forget Tribute Classic.

The event honors those killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and raises money for the education of children who lost parents that day.

Hurley expects the homecoming, his first as coach at Connecticut, to be an emotional one and not just because of its connection to Sept. 11.

The coach, who grew up in nearby Jersey City, doesn’t get back often, “unless they’ve got some 6-foot-11 kids that we need,” he said.

He knows there will be a large contingent of family and friends in the stands.

He says he’ll take the time, perhaps during the national anthem, to look around and remember that it wasn’t that long ago he was coaching just blocks away, in a high school gym, in front of 200 fans.

“I’m going to take the time to appreciate the journey,” he said. “Laughing, being sad, happy. Running the emotions gamut is a good thing. I’m no stoic.”

The game Saturday will be a homecoming for guard UConn Tarin Smith, a graduate transfer from Duquesne. Smith played high school basketball for Hurley’s father, Hall of Famer Bob Hurley, at the now-closed St. Anthony High School in Jersey City.

The 23-year-old was in kindergarten during the terrorist attacks. He said his parents were both working in Manhattan that day and he’s heard their stories of trying to reconnect with each other and get back home to him.

But he has no memory of 9/11 and doesn’t get choked up, like his coach, when talking about it.

“I’d definitely call it more so history for me,” he said.

For him, the day will be all about basketball and showing his hometown what he can do.

“Make ’em proud,” he said.

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