Walt Hameline wasn’t recreating the wheel.
But he was looking outside of the box.
It’s not often that a high school coach is given his own Division I program to run.
Of course, this wasn’t just any ordinary high school coach.
Dan Hurley had pedigree — as a player and a coach — few high school coaches have.
“A lot of people knew about him. We’re so close [to St. Benedict’s Prep]. How about Hurley [people asked]? His name would come up,” Hameline, who gave Hurley his first college head-coaching job 13 years ago at Wagner College, recalled in a phone interview with The Post, as his former coach prepared Connecticut for this weekend’s Final Four in Houston. “He checked all the boxes as you got deeper into it.”
Hurley only spent two years at the Staten Island school, going 38-23, before leaving for the head coaching position at Rhode Island.
But he ushered in a new era of success at Wagner, inheriting a program that had won five games the season prior to his arrival.
One of his assistant coaches, Bashir Mason, took over when he left and guided the Seahawks to seven winning seasons in 10 years and three 20-win campaigns.
“I was still coaching football at that point and ironically, once he did get here and I watched their practices, it was like watching a football practice,” Hameline joked. “Those kids played hard. If you didn’t play hard, you wouldn’t play for Dan Hurley.”
The decision to hire Hurley, the school’s athletic director recalled, wasn’t difficult.
He had prior coaching experience as an assistant under Kevin Bannon at Rutgers from 1997-2001.
He played at Seton Hall, was the son of legendary New Jersey high school coach Bob Hurley Sr. and turned St. Benedict’s into a national power.
Sometimes with high school coaches, Hameline said, there is a concern with how they would be able to recruit.
Not with Hurley, who had extensive experience recruiting top-flight players like J.R. Smith, Tristan Thompson and Samardo Samuels to St. Benedict’s, and went 223-21 record in nine years there.
Hameline’s first call was to P.J. Carlesimo, Hurley’s coach at Seton Hall.
Next was Jay Wright, who recruited many of Hurley’s St. Benedict’s players.
Both offered glowing recommendations.
“Danny is a pretty straight shooter. There wasn’t a lot of fluff about anything,” Hameline recalled of his interview with Hurley. “It was, ‘Hey, this is what I do, this is how I want to build a program and how I built a program [at St. Benedict’s] and how I’ve been involved in my father building a program.’ It was pretty straightforward and it was pretty direct.
“All those things, the checkoff points, he hit them all. Right away, all of a sudden we had really good players.”
So Hameline pulled the trigger, starting Hurley’s ascent in college basketball.
At Rhode Island, he rebuilt a dormant program and reached two NCAA Tournaments in six seasons.
That led to him taking the job at Connecticut, where his teams have received at-large bids to the tournament in each of his last three years and is the favorite to cut down the nets at NRG Stadium next Monday night.
It all started on Staten Island with Wagner College in the low-major Northeast Conference.
“I look at it as, ‘Hey, we were lucky to have Dan Hurley here,’ ” Hameline said. “It was a good opportunity for Danny.”
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