The first time Myck Kabongo left an impression on Dan Hurley, his former coach for three years at St. Benedict’s High School and now the head coach at Wagner, was before he even got to the school. The two had spoken on the phone on a Saturday night about Kabongo coming down from his native Toronto to see a practice and check out the school. The next day, at 3 p.m., Kabongo was there — with AAU teammate Tristan Thompson in tow.
That was just the first impression. Over the course of their time together, there would be many others. There was the time his junior year when he hit a buzzer-beater to beat St. Patrick’s and outplayed eventual NBA first overall pick Kyrie Irving. The list could go on, all indicative of the esteem with which Hurley holds his former point guard after a nine-year coaching stop at the school.
“He’s right there,” Hurley said of where Kabongo stands amongst his best players. “I thought he was earmarked to be the best one just because he was so good at his position. He has all of the qualities you would want to be a great college player and great NBA player down the road. For me he projected to be the best one that I would have coached and we coached some good ones.”
That’s high praise from Hurley — who has coached Thompson, J.R. Smith and Samardo Samuels, among others. But Kabongo’s basketball skills aren’t the first things Hurley mentioned when talking about the now-freshman at Texas.
One reason Kabongo looks forward to returning to New Jersey to play Oregon State in the semifinals of the Legends Classic tonight at the Izod Center is because of the relationship he built with the Hurleys.
“I’m very excited,” Kabongo said. “It’s like my second home — my third home now because Toronto is one, Texas is two and Jersey is three.”
While Wagner travels to Lafayette, Hurley’s wife and children will stay local to watch Kabongo — the same kid that used to stay over a few weekends a month and play with Hurley’s two sons. The same kid that still calls Hurley’s wife on Mother’s Day and on her birthday. The same kid that she now sends brownies and cookies to.
“Myck was one of the handful guys that I would say I was the closest to on a personal level while coaching at St. Benedict’s because we spent so much time together,” Hurley said. “He became extraordinarily close with my children, my wife and myself. So the relationship probably went beyond the player-coach.
“He was great with my sons. He’d be outside playing sports with them, he’d be in the basement playing video games, he’d be running around … playing army. He’s one of the top players in the country who has all these people tugging at him and treating him like a commodity, yet when he would come to my house he would be a normal kid and would take the time.”
But Kabongo left St. Benedict’s for Findlay Prep when Hurley left for Wagner .
Now he’ll return as one of the most exciting freshmen in college basketball. He’s a projected first-round pick who flirted with a triple-double in just his second collegiate game. Hurley has seen enough to put Kabongo in some rare company.
“You talk about some of these guys that have the ‘it’ factor,” he said. “Maybe I saw it with my brother (Bobby), I think my brother had the ‘it’ factor as a player at Duke and I think Myck has the ‘it’ factor to go along with all of the physical attributes that you want in a great player.”