When Speedy Morris coached La Salle University's basketball team, he rarely, in recruiting, ventured outside Philadelphia.
"I used to get six players a year out of Philadelphia," Morris said Thursday. "I didn't do a great job outside Philly."
Didn't need to.
Morris' Explorers used homegrown talent to dominate the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and build a regional power that, at times, made national impact.
Yet there was Morris, on a cold, rainy night in the fall of 1987, motoring through rural Lancaster County toward Lititz, where a 6-5 Warwick senior named Jack Hurd had been tearing up the Lancaster-Lebanon League.
When Morris, with assistants Fran Dunphy and Joe Mihalich riding along, arrived at Hurd's home, Jack and his mother were home, but Dad was tied up somewhere. Mr. Hurd wouldn't arrive home for about an hour.
The ideal recruiting spiel, like any sales pitch, is brisk, and leaves 'em wanting more. But this was a long evening.
"We ended up giving [the pitch] twice," Morris said.
Then they got in their car and drove into the freezing, sloppy night, Dunphy driving, Speedy riding shotgun and Mihalich ….
Not in the car. Stranded in Lititz. Somehow they thought Mihalich was in the back seat when, in reality, only his sport coat was.
Morris was a little worried about Mihalich. Recruiting being largely about impressions, he was more worried about looking like a hapless dork.
"I was thinking if he goes back to the house," Morris said, "no way we're getting this kid."
They sped back to Lititz, and eventually found Mihalik soaked and shivering on a street corner.
"What the bleep are you doing?" he said, as Morris remembered. "At first he thought we were messing with him, then he started getting worried."
It was a rocky beginning, but Morris probably didn't realize he had a critical edge over the other schools - Seton Hall, Davidson, Richmond and Massachusetts - to which Hurd took official visits.
"I had been going to the Palestra with my dad for Big Five games since I was a little kid," Hurd said Friday, by telephone, from his home in Collegeville.
"At the end of the day I wanted to go to the Big Five, and LaSalle was the only one of them recruiting me."
Hurd chose La Salle, started every game there for four years, was a team captain as a senior and an academic all-American.
"He's one of my all-time favorite players," Morris said. "It was an honor to coach him."
Morris liked Hurd so much that all four years he was at La Salle, the Explorers drove to Lititz, in November, and played an intrasquad scrimmage for a packed house at Warwick's gym.
"It was perfect for me," Hurd said. "The school, the style of play, the people I met. Speedy was an incredible influence on my life."
La Salle's basketball history runs long and deep. The Explorers won the National Invitational Tournament, then a very big deal, in 1952. They won the NCAA title in 1955, largely because of the work of '55 national player of the year, and eventual NBA Hall of Famer, Tom Gola.
The program is in the news after a 22-win regular season earned it a berth in this year's NCAAs, and wins over Boise State and Kansas State have La Salle dancing into a seemingly winnable game with Ole Miss today, a Sweet 16 berth on the line.
But before last week, or at least until the rebuilding of ninth-year coach John Gianini began to take hold, the program had been dormant for a long while. Hurd played in three NCAAs, but his senior year was the last time the Explorers danced, and his sophomore year was the last time they won a tournament game.
Hurd meshed with the Philly guys. There was Doug Overton, a point guard who played 11 years in the NBA. There was Randy Woods, a mercurial guard who missed his freshman year because of the old "Prop 48," academic standards, and who ended up averaging 27.4 a game as a senior, graduating and playing in the NBA.
And especially there was Lionel Simmons, a 6-7 forward who would make any savvy Philly hoops fan's all-time team.
Simmons has been largely forgotten nationally because of an injury-ruined NBA career. But he's the third-leading scorer in the history of major-college hoops, and the only major-college player with 3,000 career points and 1,100 career rebounds. His La Salle teams went 100-31.
Hurd was all-everything in high school, scored 2,160 points. In college, he played off Simmons like Sonny played off Cher.
"He played hard all the time, and he was clutch," said Morris, pointing to a regular-season game at BYU, with a crowd of more than 20,000 watching, in which Hurd's 19-footer with four seconds left was the winning dagger.
In Hurd's freshman year, 1989, La Salle went 26-6 and made the NCAAs. There was a rush-the-floor win over Florida State, then a top-20 team, at a packed Palestra, Simmons scoring 39 and Hurd nailing a key late jumper.
But 1990 was the year. Woods was eligible, and Simmons was a senior with his last big shot.
With big-league guards in Overton and Woods, a wing gunner in Hurd and an aircraft carrier in Simmons, the Explorers jelled around a serviceable 6-8 post guy named Milko Lieverst to form a classic one-in, four-out team built for the 3-point shot and, indeed, for today's modern, quasi-European style game.
That team's only regular-season loss came in early January, at a sold-out Philadelphia Civic Center, to a now-legendary Loyola Marymount team featuring Philly guys Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble, very close friends and off-season pickup-game teammates of the La Salle players, especially Simmons and Overton.
LM played at warp speed and, Hurd remembers, "Speedy had the idea that we should run with them."
Late in the game, Simmons was so exhausted that he airballed two free throws.
"They were both about 2 feet short," Hurd said, laughing.
Kimble, a notoriously shaky foul shooter who was right-handed, made two huge ones at the line in the final seconds. Left-handed. LM 121, La Salle 116.
Then the Explorers won 22 in a row, including Notre Dame, a sweep of the Big Five, utter domination of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference and a fairly easy defeat of Southern Miss in the first round of the NCAAs.
That brought on Clemson, in the second round, a horrible matchup because Clemson had two NBA bigs, Dale Davis and Eldon Campbell.
La Salle led that game by 16 at halftime. But Clemson's press, and size, wore the Explorers down.
Morris said Clemson shot 22 free throws in the second half. La Salle shot one.
"They just killed us inside," he said. "The next round would have been UConn. In my mind, we could have won that one. The regional final would have been Duke …"
They finished 30-2.
Sans Simmons, the Explorers won 19 the following year and settled for the NIT.
"That was devastating at the time," Hurd said. "You expected to get to the NCAAs."
They did the following year, Hurd's last, and finished 20-11.
Then, downhill. The school joined something called the Midwestern Collegiate Conference, then the Atlantic 10, where it seemed overmatched for a while. With the decline of the Civic Center, they couldn't find an attractive off-campus building to play in.
Morris was fired in 2001, after eight straight losing seasons. There was a rape scandal involving players three years later. But that led to the hiring of Gianini, and a long, steady climb back.
The A-10 is better than it's ever been, and the Explorers are right there, and again doing it with Philly guys.
Morris, 70, is back in La Salle's good graces, in the Philly Sports Hall of Fame as of 2011. He's coaching high school ball at St. Joseph's Prep, which he led to the third round of the Class AAAA state playoffs this season.
He's the winningest coach in the history of both La Salle and the Philly Catholic League.
Simmons owns a tavern in Philly. He spends half the year there, the other half in Miami.
Hurd is human resources director for the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit, the equivalent of local IU 13. He doesn't play much basketball any more, but the eldest of his three daughters, at age 11, is starting to get into it.
He watches, of course. During the Boise State game he got an excited text from Simmons, who was at the game.
With a win tonight, Hurd said, "We might have to start looking into plane tickets."