When it comes time for Matthew Hurt to make his college choice April 19, his father knows what will be the hardest part for him.
Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina — they are all good people. That will be the tough thing having to say no to three schools for him just because they are all such good people, Richard Hurt said.
Matthew Hurt is a 6-9, five-star forward from Minnesota who had eight points and five rebounds in the recent McDonald’s All-American Game where plenty of players, including future UK players Tyrese Maxey and Kahlil Whitney, tried to convince him that he should join them in college.
The player said the time in Atlanta for the McDonald’s Game was one of the “best weeks of my life on and off the court” because of the other players he was around despite the good-natured recruiting talk.
“I really appreciate that the coaches have not aggravated me. They hit me a couple of times a week, so I have enjoyed the recruiting,” Matthew Hurt said.
Matthew Hurt says he has reasons for liking all four schools and head coach. His father says the “obvious” reasons to like Kentucky would be the talent Calipari brings in but also the coaching staff of Calipari and assistants Kenny Payne, Tony Barbee and Joel Justus.
“They all do a phenomenal job. Tony was a head coach. Kenny Payne could have had his options of being a coach anywhere. Joel is one of best young coaches and recruiters out there. What they do is develop talent and that’s the obvious answer for why Kentucky is still on Matthew’s list,” Richard Hurt said.
However, there’s also a “not so obvious” answer about the family’s interest in Kentucky.
“We have spent a lot of time in the state of Kentucky. My wife and I graduated from Murray State, my dad played (basketball) for Murray State. We have family that are graduates of the University of Kentucky and family that still lives there (Kentucky),” Richard Hurt said. “We have a lot of really good friends that live in Owensboro, Murray and E-town. We have a pretty strong connection with the state.”
Richard Hurt’s father is from Murray and met his wife at Murray State before going to medical school at the University of Louisville.
“We did grow up Louisville fans. That doesn’t mean anything in terms of Matthew’s recruitment,” Richard Hurt laughed and said. “One of my earliest memories was Louisville’s 1980 championship. I grew up idolizing Kenny Payne. Nobody could shoot the ball like number 21 back in the day. Seriously. I am still a Louisville fan, and my brother who went to medical school there is a huge fan. The Kentucky (coaches) know all that.”
However, he also watched coach Rick Pitino revitalize the Kentucky basketball program during his years at Murray State.
“There was nothing like Kentucky basketball. It was everywhere,” Richard Hurt said. “Getting to see that first hand — we probably got to three or four Kentucky games per year — and witness that from a fan perspective gave us kind of a neat perspective on Kentucky basketball. Love the state, love the area. We know Big Blue Nation is a real thing.”
Before you read too much into the family connections, note that Matthew Hurt said he knows “Murray is somewhere in Kentucky” but that he has not visited there in quite some time. Recently Rivals.com recruiting analyst Corey Evans noted that North Carolina, Duke and Kansas were all in better position to land Hurt than Kentucky.
Hurt’s parents have also noticed the “servanthood” that Calipari makes sure his players are involved in during their time at UK — and hopefully continue once they leave school.
“I would say it is not something Matthew is not going to see as much as we (his parents) do but I think that’s the unique part about being part of a program like that. You actually have to think about those things and diversifying your skill set and expanding who you are as a person because once you leave whatever university you go to, whether you are playing in the NBA, playing overseas or whatever it is, ultimately you have to contribute to society. They do a great job of preparing you for that,” Richard Hurt said.
The father knows some people like Calipari, others don’t. However, he says the Kentucky coach is different than his “public persona” that most see.
“What I would say is that he is much different, especially with us. I found every conversation we have had as genuine and straight up as one could ever imagine. I really appreciate that about him,” Richard Hurt said.
He says his son’s deliberate approach to recruiting might be inherited from him and that he’s stopped worrying about what school his son will pick.
“He kind of knows what he is looking for, he knows what he is thinking. He is able to identify the people on the personal side as well as on the basketball side, which I tend to focus on more being a coach. He is really good at breaking all that down. Maybe my wife is worrying but I am not worried about it at all. He knows what he wants but he’s still being very deliberate about that final choice,” Richard Hurt said.
Many had questions about Maci Morris when she came to Kentucky despite her brilliant high school career at Bell County where she was Kentucky’s Miss Basketball. She more than answered those questions the last four years by becoming stronger and improving her overall skills on both offense and defense.
Kentucky’s loss to North Carolina State in the NCAA Tournament ended her career. She finished with 1,692 points, sixth most in program history. However, she’s also scored the fifth most points of any Kentuckian — men or women — at UK.
Jack Givens leads the list with 2,038 points while Adia Mathies had 2,104. Third is Leslie Nichols with 1,797 points and then Makayla Epps, a former Morris teammate at UK, with 1,790.
Morris finished with 252 3-points, second in program history, and hit 41.1 percent from 3 — No. 1 in program history. She hit a 3 in 107 of 129 career games.
“Just knowing that some people have compared me to Maci is such a huge honor,” Kentucky signee Emma King of Lincoln County said. “I would love to think my career could be like hers because she had a remarkable four years at UK.”
One reason that Kentucky signee Tyrese Maxey did not reclassify to the 2018 recruiting class was so he could hopefully play in the McDonald’s All-American Game like he did last week in Atlanta. He had 13 points on 5-for- 10 shooting and hit three 3-pointers in the game and also made two runners in the lane — something he said he had been working on to help him once he gets to UK.
Maxey was openly encouraged by his parents to reclassify but never seriously considered doing so.
“We don’t know all the answers to parenthood. I have been a player and Tyrese is a pretty mature kid,” Tyrone Maxey, the player’s father, said. “We just thought you have done everything in high school, why not go up? You are ready and Cal (John Calipari) thinks you are ready, so go make it happen.
“He wanted to stay and play with his friends he had known since fifth grade. The McDonald’s game was one of his goals. He is a very strategic kid. It just was not in his plan to reclassify. We respected that. It’s his life to live and it made sense to him, so we supported him 100 percent.”
Tyrese Maxey also returned to South Garland (Texas) High School to win a state title. His father won one as a junior and Maxey’s team had lost in the state final in 2018. This year the team lost in the regional final.
“I would tease him about me having a title and he wanted to win one so bad to shut me up but our team fell just a little short,” Tyrone Maxey, an assistant coach on the team, said.
However, playing in the McDonald’s Game helped Maxey know he made the right decision.
“ This was a dream come true for me, just like I thought it was,” he said. “I would have loved being at Kentucky, but I don’t have any regrets and now it is my time to be there, so it’s all fine.”
When you think of former Kentucky All-American Kyle Macy, you think of his clutch shooting and accuracy at the foul line. He’s not remember as a defensive stopper, but maybe he should be. His 69 steals in the 1978-79 season rank as the fifth best mark in UK basketball history and his 58 steals in 1979-80 rank 23rd. He’s 21st all-time in steals at Kentucky.
“I am like a Ninja. I just went unseen on the floor with my defense,” said Macy, the point guard on UK’s 1978 national championship team. “Or maybe defensively I was just underrated because my offense was so good. Yeah, that’s not right either.”
Macy can poke fun at himself but the numbers show that he had a knack for making steals in a way few players have been able to do.
“I was not the type player to dazzle you with my jumping ability, speed or quickness,”
Macy said. “I had to rely on the fundamental — pass, catch, shoot, defend. The game was different then. If you look at assists it was a lot harder to get an assist when I was playing than it is now. Now you throw a guy the ball, he dribbles twice, scores and you get an assist. But with steals, it’s still the same. A steal is a steal. So I am proud of what I did on defense with my anticipation and understanding of the game.”
Auburn’s surprising late season surge put Bruce Pearl back in the spotlight in the NCAA Tournament and it could not have surprised him when he was asked if college basketball is a “cesspool” now because of current investigations, including one that got LSU coach Will Wade suspended just before postseason play started.
“I live it all the day and see all the good that’s taking place on college campuses with students that have opportunities to be able to change their lives that they might not have otherwise,” Pearl said before his team beat UK to earn a Final Four berth. “No, it’s not a cesspool. There are some things that are wrong with it, things that take place that are inappropriate.
“ That’s the business of college basketball. The reason why the NCAA is involved in this is because it’s their job to monitor. It’s their job to enforce. It’s their job to encourage people to work hard, to do it the right way and not allow some of the other things to seep into the business because of the business and the money and the pressures.
“The question is, what do you want to focus on? We need to continue to work to keep it clean, but we need to understand all the good that’s being done.”
I talked to Auburn senior Horace Spencer at the SEC Tournament for a story about former high school teammate PJ Washington. But I also asked him what playing for Pearl was like.
“It has been an amazing four years. I love playing for coach Pearl. He is a great influence on my life and my family’s life,” Spencer said. “It has been a wonderful thing and when I leave here I am really going to miss him.
“ You all really don’t know much about him. You have probably seen him flailing around on the court but off the court he is very spiritual and a great leader. He’s just a really good guy that I truly love.”
Quote of the Week: “Obviously being able to come here, it’s been a blessing and thankful for the opportunities. Lot of emotions not being able to finish it the way I wanted to, but that doesn’t take away from the experience that I had. This has been one of the best years of my life playing basketball,” senior Reid Travis on his year at UK after the Cats lost to Auburn in the Elite Eight.
Quote of the Week 2: “What a joy it was to coach this year. I mean, I had more fun and I still challenged them, I still held them accountable. I was on guys, but I knew that they would respond and I knew that they were going to be in that gym and going to work and share and sacrifice for each other,” John Calipari on this season after his team lost to Auburn.
Quote of the Week 3: “We’re not Cinderellas in anything. We’re really, really good in all those other sports. We win championships. Been a long time since men’s basketball has been good. That’s what makes it so special for us,” coach Bruce Pearl after Auburn beat UK to reach the Final Four for the first time.