Josh Thompson's loss was the University of Rhode Island's gain.
Actually, Thompson's wins did it.
The St. Augustine Prep graduate helped the Wagner College men's basketball team to so much success last season that coach Dan Hurley left for the University of Rhode Island.
This season, Thompson hopes to continue his success under a new coach, while Hurley has provided a fresh start at Rhode Island for two local players who needed it: Holy Spirit High School alumnus Ryan Brooks and Atlantic Christian School graduate DeShon Minnis.
"Coach Dan, he just pushes you - like, push you, push you, push you," Minnis said in a phone interview last week. "And you become a better player."
Hurley, the son of legendary St. Anthony High School coach Bob Hurley, coached at St. Benedict's Prep until 2010. He then took over at Wagner and led the Seahawks to a 25-7 record last season, his second year there. Thompson averaged 4.2 points and 2.9 rebounds per game.
Thompson is expected to start as a senior this year under new coach Bashir Mason, the former Drexel star who was an assistant under Hurley.
Thompson, a Bridgeton resident, said he does not resent Hurley for leaving. It's part of college basketball: Except for the elite programs, when a team has success the coach is likely to move on to a higher-profile job.
"You understand it, and it kind of compliments the job that you've done as a player under that coach," Thompson said.
Brooks and Minnis hope to do a similar job under Hurley.
Brooks seemed primed to emerge as a key player for Rhode Island as a junior last season, but he fell out of favor with then-coach Jim Baron. After averaging only seven minutes in the Rams' first 12 games, the 6-foot-8 forward missed the last 19 due to academic struggles. Rhode Island finished 7-24, and Baron was fired.
"It was a terrible season, probably one of the worst years of my life, actually," the Mays Landing resident said in a phone interview last week. "Last year was a step back, but I'm going to try to get back on track this year, definitely."
Minnis didn't have a bad season. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 3.1 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.4 assists as a freshman at Texas Tech.
But Minnis, who goes by "Biggie," decided he wanted to play closer to home. He grew up in Philadelphia and lived in Atlantic City during his last two years of high school.
Looking for a new school, Minnis was excited to see that Hurley had taken the Rhode Island job and brought his older brother, forner NBA player Bobby Hurley, with him as an assistant.
"I like how they coach, and I saw what they did at Wagner," Minnis said.
Minnis and Brooks did not know each other previously. But they quickly became close.
"Ryan, that's my big brother, man," Minnis said. "(Being from the same area) just made us even closer. Every night, on and off the court, we're together. I look up to him."
Minnis is redshirting this year under the NCAA's transfer rules. But Brooks said he expects to be "a big part of the team." Already, Brooka started the Rams' season opener Friday and had eight rebounds and a game-high four blocks.
"Honestly, this feels like more of a family this year," Brooks said. "I feel like these (coaches) really care about everything on and off the court."
Hurley built a team in that environment at Wagner. Now, that veteran squad has its sights set on the NCAA tournament. The Seahawks were picked third in the Northeast Conference's preseason coaches' poll.
"I'm looking forward to leading this team, being a senior, leading this team to the tournament," Thompson said. "The outlook for this team is to make it to the tournament and to really continue to put Wagner and our program on the map."
If Hurley puts Rhode Island back on the map, he could be on the move again. But Minnis said that doesn't bother him.
"It lets you know he's a good coach," Minnis said, "and wherever he goes, I know he's going to push that team to win."
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