By LARRY VAUGHT
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 guy (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.