The Rhode Island Rams have seen better days.
Rhode Island has not been to the NCAA Tournament since 1999, when Lamar Odom hit a three-point shot in the Atlantic-10 Tournament to send the Rams dancing. In 1998, Jim Harrick‘s Rams were all but in the Final Four until a series of plays and missed calls left the backcourt of Cuttino Mobley and Tyson Wheeler heartbroken. Finally, who could forget the 1988 Sweet 16 team that beat the invincible Syracuse Orangemen.
Those Rams, coached by Tom Penders, were known as the “Runnin’ Rams” and employed an uptempo style due to the the dynamic backcourt of Tommy Garrick and Carlton “Silk” Owens. The ’88 Rams beat one of the best college basketball teams of all-time that featured future NBA veterans, Sherman Douglas, Rony Seikaly, Billy Owens and Derrick Coleman.
However, those times are long ago. After another disappointing season by Jim Baron, who never made the NCAA Tournament during his 11-year tenure, Baron was released of his duties as head coach and Rhode Island hired Dan Hurley to turn the program around.
Hurley is from a tremendous basketball family. His brother, Bobby Hurley, was an All-American point guard for Mike Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils and his father, Bob Hurley Sr., is a legendary at St. Anthony’s High School in New Jersey.
Dan Hurley added his brother, Jim Carr and Preston Murphy to his staff to help resurrect the program. Murphy, a URI alum, has pride in the program since he played for Harrick on the ’98 team and knows what it means to win at Rhode Island.
Hurley and his staff are building a strong foundation at all levels at Rhode Island, which obviously includes recruiting. He has brought in transfers that are practicing with the team but are not eligible to play until next season: 6’8″ forward Gilvydas Biruta from the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, 6’3″ guard DeShon Minnis from the Texas Tech Red Raiders, 6’6″ forward Jarelle Reischel from the Rice Owls and 6’8″ forward Ifeanyi Onyakaba, who is at prep school, will all be on the Rams roster.
In addition, he will use his entire family’s connections throughout the country to bring in top talent. Already Scout’s website rated Rhode Island’s recruiting class as the eighth best in the nation among non-BCS schools for next season.
Still, Hurley knows that he must start the development of his program now.
In a recent interview with the New York Daily Times, Hurley stated, “Before you can recruit and win games, you have to fix the culture.” He continued, “And that’s something we work on every single day, in every drill, in every study hall, in every weight-lifting session, everything we do. We’re getting these guys to carry themselves in a professional manner on and off the court.”
Currently the Rams are 6-13 overall, and are in second to last in the Atlantic-10conference standings, with a 1-5 mark.
What is encouraging for Hurley is that in their game on Jan. 30 against the Virginia Commonwealth Rams the Ryan Center, URI’s home court, boasted a crowd of over 6,600 fans including their second largest student section of over 2,800 students.
Hurley is exciting about the fans enthusiasm and added after the game, “We’ve got a lot of great things about to happen here.”
With Hurley’s new transfers waiting in the wings and his thirst for immediate success, Rhode Island will be vastly improved next season and will surprise the A-10 and maybe even some programs nationally.
All this hype has Rhode Island fans yearning for next season to start now.
Follow Bert DeSalvo on Twitter @CoachDeSalvo