Former Rhody Greats Find Themselves on Opposite Ends of NCAA Tournament Opener

Antonio Reynolds Dean (left) and Preston Murphy (right) share a brief embrace before the start of their final home game as members of the Rhode Island men's basketball team (1999).
Antonio Reynolds Dean (left) and Preston Murphy (right) share a brief embrace before the start of their final home game as members of the Rhode Island men's basketball team (1999).

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – They were teammates 18 years ago on the last Rhode Island team to make the NCAA Tournament. Friday afternoon, Antonio Reynolds Dean and Preston Murphy will sit on opposite benches when Rhody takes on Creighton in the opening round of this year's championship.

Reynolds Dean is in his second season as an assistant with the Rams, the only person to be part of the Rhode Island roster for both of the program's Atlantic 10 championship titles. Murphy is in his second season as part of Doug McDermott's staff at Creighton.

"Initially, it was just shock," Murphy said of the moment he realized he'd be coaching against his alma mater in the NCAA Tournament. "Earlier in the day, I was cheering for them and I was just excited for them winning the Atlantic 10 championship. I was proud, as an alum, of what they had done."

Reynolds Dean and Murphy have stayed closed through the years. They were both part of three consecutive NCAA appearances for the Rams from 1997-99, and both were starters on the A-10 championship team in 1999.

"Obviously the first feeling was shock. There is the excitement of seeing your name get called, which is a thrilling moment," Reynolds Dean said. "Then you see who you are playing, and you think, 'Oh man.' But then the competitiveness takes over. We exchanged text messages and you have the subtle jabs. Come Friday, for 40 minutes it is all about going up against Creighton, and then after the game it will get back to normal for us."

Both men have played significant roles in building the current Rhody squad. Reynolds Dean has been with the Rams for the last two seasons on Dan Hurley's staff. Murphy was on Hurley's staff from 2010-14 and helped recruit many of the team's current players.

"Preston is another person that's responsible for this program being where it is," Hurley said. "He helped in an enormous way with recruiting early on, taking over a program that bottomed out and helping us build the culture."

Murphy and Hurley remain close, and there is a clear mutual respect between the two.

"Coach Hurley has done an excellent job of bringing in high levels of talent," Murphy said. "He has really coached those guys up and led them to where they are now. As an alum, there is just a feeling of pride knowing Rhode Island has been restored to the top of the A-10."

"Preston is a great friend," Hurley said. "So, it does stink on some level to go up against someone that not only is a friend, but also someone who is a former player here and who has so much pride in URI. But I know that he's hurting a lot more than I'm hurting right now."

Each of the coaches knows there is the business of winning to tend to come Friday.

"We've spoken to each other, but we haven't talked much about the matchup itself," Murphy said. "I'm friends with Coach Hurley. We talk a lot. Antonio and I talk a lot on the phone. But this week, we haven't talked much about the game itself.

"After we play, we'll all be able to reflect on things after the season is over. We are all focused on trying to win the game for our respective teams right now, but eventually we'll look back at all the different things everyone did to make this all possible. Outside of tomorrow, I cheer for Rhody at all times. I followed as many games during the year that I was able to catch. I'm proud of what they have done."