Last summer was family time for Matthew Hurt.
The former Rochester John Marshall and Duke basketball star will reflect on it as some of the best days of his life.
He’ll also recall it as having taken him from “there” to “here.”
“Here” is a guy who’s now expected to be chosen somewhere in the first two rounds of the July 29 NBA Draft. Hurt announced that he was declaring for the draft on April 14, officially ending his two-year stay at Duke.
And “there?” Well, “there” was his freshman season at Duke, one with ups but also too many downs for his taste.
So Hurt did something about it. The former five-star recruit, McDonald’s All-American and Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball grabbed the summer by the horns and proceeded to turn himself into a first-team All-ACC player, the ACC’s Most Improved player and a true NBA prospect.
The 6-foot-9, 235-pound sweet-shooting forward did it all family style. That’s what will forever stick with him. It was all of that time spent in the John Marshall gymnasium and weight room during the COVID pandemic, older brother Michael, young sister Katie, father Richard and mother Jenny by his side through so much of it, there to help him get better and just be with him, period.
It was an unforgettable five months — for all of them.
“Being with my family was cool,” Matthew said. “To spend those quarantine months together, we may never get that kind of time again. And to do it in Rochester was especially good. There’s nothing like it.”
Said Richard: “To be able to share that time as a family unit, we will look back on that even more fondly 10-15 years from now. Just to have those experiences and to be able to share them, that was special.”
Matthew was one of the most highly recruited players in the country his senior year at John Marshall, after averaging 37 points and 12 rebounds.
He lived up to that at times as a Duke freshman and his season-ending stats were solid: 10 points per game on excellent 49-percent shooting. But there were a few scoreless games mixed in and his ending was a downer, Matthew scoring just seven points total in his final three games as a freshman.
“We recognized the fact that he needed to improve,” Richard said. “And Matthew knew he needed to improve.”
There was also one other key individual who knew progress was necessary. That was Mike Krzyzewski, Duke’s coach and one of the most respected basketball leaders and minds of all time.
He laid it all out there to Richard, placing a phone call to him two Easters ago, sharing his vision.
“Coach K called me and said, ‘Here are the things that Matthew needs to work on,’” Richard said. “He said he needs to get stronger, and he needs to keep working on moving with and without the ball. Those are the things he focused on.”
As awful as being bottled up by the COVID pandemic was for the Hurts and everyone else on the planet, it had its upside for anyone trying to be single-focused. That was Matthew, who was now armed with a basketball improvement plan, with time on his hands after COVID ended the 2019-20 basketball season prematurely, and back in Rochester where his family was wanting to invest in him as much as he wanted to invest in himself.
“Team Hurt” went to work, including older brother Michael continually making the trip from Minneapolis to Rochester after having just finished his basketball career at the University of Minnesota. All were given permission to get into the John Marshall gymnasium and weight room during quarantine. That’s where Matthew’s workouts went on for five months, six days per week.
Workout help was also provided via Zoom call by Jeff Pagliocca, a Chicago-based basketball trainer. Pagliocca would give his instructions, which were watched and listened to by Michael and Richard, with Michael mostly then relaying them to Matthew. He’d also do his best to play defense against his brother.
Matthew’s ever-improving play wore big brother out, which is just what he’d hoped would happen.
“Michael has done a lot for me,” Matthew said. “Having him guide me, playing with him and pushing me to my limits — he’s done everything for me. I’d play him one-on-one and he gave me a lot of confidence, talking me up. He’d say, ‘That was a really good move you made, now take that back to Duke.’”
An intense time
It was a mostly dead-serious five months of basketball for Matthew. That was his choice and Michael said he never wavered from that, from the time he arrived in Rochester in March until he returned to Duke in August.
“Matthew was very motivated and very driven about wanting to get better,” Michael said. “He had some good moments as a freshman. But we all thought he could make big advances; our whole family thought it, that he could do more. So we established what his end goals should be, that he should be one of the best players on his team and that he needed to be a guy who when the shot clock was running down, that he could create his shot.
"Now, he can get his shot off against anyone. I sympathized with those guys this season who were looking at their coaches, asking, ‘What do I have to do to stop (Matthew)?’ I had to play defense against him this summer, so I know what that’s like.”
No single defender ever did solve Hurt this season. After getting up more than 50,000 shots over the summer and watching the ball go through the net time after time, his confidence, his beefier and stronger body from all of those weight-room sessions, and his shot-creation refinement allowed him to enter a new stratosphere this season.
Hurt finished it by averaging 18 points and six rebounds per game. He scored at least 20 points in 10 of Duke’s 22 games, with a season-best 37 points against Louisville.
Hurt’s shot making, which included equal portions of 3-pointers, silky smooth step-back shots, as well as post-ups, was done at a remarkable rate. He shot 44% on 3-pointers and 57% overall. That left him as the second most efficient shooter in the entire country this season.
That summer of basketball devotion from “Team Hurt,” it certainly worked.
“You have to love the process,” Matthew said.
About the only lingering disappointment that Hurt had from his two-year stint at Duke was having never played in an NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils would have made it his freshman year had basketball not been shut down that March by the pandemic. This season, with a bunch of newcomers, Duke did not have its usual amount of success. The Blue Devils finished 13-11 which wasn’t good enough for an automatic NCAA Tournament bid. They were playing their best basketball at the end of the season and had hopes of winning the ACC postseason tournament. That would have been an automatic qualifier for the Big Dance. But after two wins in the tournament, their season was shut down once again by the pandemic, as a Duke player tested positive for the virus.
The right choice
Still, Hurt’s happy memories of his two years in Durham, N.C., far outweigh any downs. They include him having built what figure to be lifelong friendships.
“Duke, for sure, was the right college for me,” Hurt said. “It was disappointing to not play in an (NCAA) tournament game, but I was blessed to put that Duke jersey on and represent that school. I grew up a Duke fan, so just to be a part of that as a player was great. And to play for Coach K, that was incredible. He’s the greatest of all time. It’s just how he comes to practice with the same competitiveness every day, and it’s how he treats his players, knowing how to push every single one of us.”
It’s an influence that Hurt continues to carry with him.
He’s taking it and applying all of those Krzyzewski coaching lessons and advice to what’s next for him. That is a July NBA Draft and a looming professional basketball career.
Hurt will soon be headed to Irvine, Calif., where his agent, Kevin Bradbury, has him signed up to take part in pre-draft workouts. Hurt says he’ll zero in on the areas he knows he needs the biggest upgrades, his lateral quickness and overall strength.
But this is a golden time for Matthew Hurt. And it may never have happened had Coach K not placed that call to his father two Easters ago and then “Team Hurt” not immediately gone to work.
But he did and they did. And now here he is, just a few months from likely having his name called in the NBA Draft.
“I think my next step is just to live in the moment,” Hurt said. “Not many people get this opportunity, and just to live it right now, it’s great.”