He's straightforward, brusque if needed, and can be as bone-rattling in his tough-love coaching as a blindside pick. So, in the opening scene of "Street Stops Here," (10 p.m. ET, Wednesday on PBS) a powerful homage to Hurley and St. Anthony's, the basketball powerhouse in Jersey City, N.J., the filmmakers do metaphor for him.
It's March. It's the last practice before the biggest game of their career for a group of six St. Anthony's seniors, and quite possibly their last game. It's Herb Brooks, Norman Dale win-one-for-the-bleeping Gipper time in Jersey City.
At center court, Hurley, the white-haired, parole officer tough coach who's won 23 state championships, tosses the basketball into the air, swings a hammer of fist into the air and knocks the ball careening down to one end of the court with a thud. He sends his team to the opposite end.
"Baseline!" he screams.
This is the metaphor. This is not a film about basketball. As he delivers the speech that sets the tone for the 82-minute documentary, there is no basketball in the frame. This is a film about relationships and survival, about Hurley, his players and his school. It's a documentary about the centripetal forces of crime, poverty and the flattening economy tugging at every seam of St. Anthony's, a small Catholic school with a proud basketball tradition but mired in a financial struggle to stay afloat.
In the middle, is Hurley, the man with the Sisyphean task of holding together every thread.
This is his story and St. Anthony's, a gripping narrative of a community bound, but not saved, by basketball.
On the court, Hurley gives it to them dirty.
"In your careers, you have won nothing," Hurley starts. He's addressing one of the most talented teams the Friars have ever had. Even this late in the season, the team is still undefeated. This earns no favor from Hurley, a seasoned motivator whose got scowls older than the teenagers he now faces. "In your careers of having won no championships, tomorrow is the biggest game of your life. And what do we have? Bulls****. Excuses, making faces. If you lose tomorrow, you will be the laughingstock of high school basketball."
The 2008 St. Anthony's Friars are the latest in a long line of talented basketball teams coached by Hurley. The programs' numbers read like a series of typos or something out of John Wooden's daydreams. Twenty-five state championships. Three national championships, 957 career wins for Hurley and three national coach of the year awards. Seven McDonald's All-Americans, five first-round draft picks. The number Hurley says he's most proud of? All but two of his players have gone on to college.
One hundred fifty have done so on basketball scholarships.
But the most important numbers are $4000 and $8000. The first is the amount of tuition each of the 261 students pays at St. Anthony's. The latter, hulking number is the amount it costs per student to keep the doors open in the 93-year-old building, which seems untouched by the town's recent gentrification and a lifetime, rather than four miles, from the economic hub of Wall Street.
This is the fight of the documentary, one that continues beyond the film's sprockets and final credits. Failing finances on one side. The fight for the lives of Jersey City's youth in one of the nation's toughest cities. A basketball team with the weight of expectations on its shoulders.
It's center is Hurley and the basketball program.
"The Crips wear blue, the Bloods wear red," Hurley says in the film's opening minutes. "but the strongest color in Jersey City is maroon and gold."
By mid-December, they rise to No. 1 in the nation in USA Today's high school rankings, a feat Hurley immediately greets with enough wind sprints to keep the team from discussing the ranking.
The drama is more in Hurley's relationship with the players. "The Street Stops Here" is more concerned with the mission of the sport and its place in St. Anthony's than it is the game itself, or even the team, which featured six Division I players, including Tyshawn Taylor (Kansas), Mike Rosario (Rutgers) and Dominic Cheek (Villanova).
There are great basketball moments, of course. There's footage of Hurley's son, Bobby, who would later go on to win two national titles at Duke and set the NCAA all-time assists record, practicing with the Friars in an old bingo hall, which was the school's practice facility at the time. There's a cameo appearance of American Christian star Tyreke Evans, now the Sacramento Kings leading scorer. The Friars hold Evans to 17 points, well below his season average, leading Hurley to quip, "We don't have to go get his autograph now, do we? No!" And there's grainy footage of a young Lower Merion (Penn.) star playing against St. Anthony's in the mid-90s with a devastating game and a funny first name.
Even that game against Kobe Bryant was about more than winning and losing.
Ranked No. 1 in the nation entering that contest, Hurley sat two starters Rashon Bruno, who would later play for DePaul and Anthony Perry, a star at Georgetown, against Bryant's Lower Merion team.
Role players stepped up in their absence and St. Anthony's won.
"What he showed is nobody is bigger than the program," Bruno said in the film.
Yet it is a rare look into one of the nation's most successful high school programs. The Friars do not have a home gym, which is, to say the least, unusual. "It makes us a great road team," quips Sister Mary Alan Barszczewski, one of the documentary's more colorful characters. Diagnosed with terminal liver cancer six years before the documentary begins, the Sister provides the soft shoulder to Hurley's gruff father figure, and fights at the center with Hurley to keep St. Anthony's students -- and its finances -- thriving.
Cameras are allowed into a player's only meeting led by team captains Jio Fontan and Travon Woodall and targeted at the team's star, Rosario.
But the documentary doesn't settle into the day-by-day of the basketball team, rather it cuts back and forth from the players' fight to rise from meager circumstances and the school's drive to remain financially viable.
While the team answers the challenge, the worsening economy is a more difficult opponent. The collapse of Bear Stearns turns what school officials hoped would be a quarter-million dollar fundraiser with the investment bank's CEO to less than $10,000.
Though the school rallies behind the team, there is no immediate happy ending, nor is there a sad ending in the "Street Stops Here."
There is no footage of the championship game and a simple Google search could spoil the dramatic push to the battle with St. Patrick's. Filmmakers eschew the easy answer of redemption through victory, as though a pile of celebrating players could cure the budgetary woes that plague the school and the encroaching reality of a struggling city.
So the film ends with the graduating players and Hurley, the school's square jaw and stiff upper lip, driving through the streets of Jersey City. The school and Hurley each show their age, but each go on.
The championship won, little changes from the film's first drive in the city and its last. The real championship game, the fight for the survival of St. Anthony's still goes on.
At St. Anthony's and in "The Street Stops Here" basketball is never enough.