1500 or so points (and counting).
17 Division I scholarships (and counting).
Six-foot-nine (and counting?).
16 years old.
JM’s Matthew Hurt may already be the best boys’ high school basketball player in the city’s history.
He’s averaging 30 points and 10 rebounds—and maybe one big-name college coach to recruit him—per game.
And he’s only a sophomore.
We’re six minutes into the John Marshall game, and the Rockets are up just four—17-13—over a visiting Red Wing team that they beat by nearly 50 a few weeks earlier.
JM forward Matthew Hurt (who averages 30 points a game, who had legendary North Carolina coach Roy Williams in the stands to scout him last week) has yet to really get involved.
And acting JM Coach Tom Brown (pressed into head coaching his first varsity game after the varsity—and JV—coaches came down with the flu) takes one of those timeouts that are mandatory when a team you should be crushing has just gone on an 11-9 run.
Brown, though, doesn’t talk plays or whiteboard some pick-and-roll. He talks emotion. Where’s the emotion? You guys need to play with some emotion!
And, just like that, everything changes.
Just like that, Matthew Hurt, in the next five up-and-down-the-court trips, shows why he’s ranked as one of the country’s top ten players in the class of 2019. Why he got his first two scholarship offers—from Iowa and Iowa State—when he was in eighth grade. Why every area sportswriter we ask—heck, anyone with any knowledge of high school basketball in Rochester—will say that Matthew Hurt will be the best player in the city’s history, if he isn’t already.
Hurt buries a three-pointer. Blocks a shot at the defensive end. Runs the court for a tip-in on the offensive boards. Pulls down a defensive rebound. Makes a long fast-break pass from the wing for an easy layup.
It’s the kind of multi-talent display that makes coaches and scouts from the nation’s top colleges charter private jets to land at RST and hire a car service to drive them to John Marshall High School to watch Matthew in action before a quick meet-and-greet with him and his parents in the middle of a Minnesota winter.
And it’s the kind of display and the kind of attention that makes you forget Matthew Hurt is still just a 16-year-old kid who, after this game, is heading home to eat Subway and finish up some geometry homework before going up to his room to watch YouTube videos and play Call of Duty.
‘He may end up being the state’s best ever. We’ll see.’
It’s just before 7 p.m., and Matthew Hurt and his teammates are all nervous energy as they wait for the girls basketball game to end—crowding under a side hoop, busting out mini dance moves, half-shoving each other, chest bumpin’, playing keep away with a basketball.
All the stuff a typical 16-year-old kid would do.
Except Matthew Hurt is not your typical 16-year-old kid.
He’s six-foot-nine, for one thing. And he’s already got above-average low-post footwork, a decent drop step, advanced shooting mechanics, soft hands, solid lower body control, longer-than-average arm length, perceptive court awareness, high coachability, nice instincts for being around the ball, a high basketball IQ, ability to score in the post on duck-ins.
Don’t take my word for it. Those are all descriptions of Hurt from the kind of high school recruiting websites—with names like hooprecruiter.com and verbalcommits.com and scout.com—that meticulously track these types of things.
“I’ve never seen a player around here at his size, with that kind of agility, speed, explosiveness, and shot-making ability,” says Post Bulletin sportswriter Pat Ruff, who’s been covering area high school basketball for 23 years. “The first time I saw him play, he was in eighth grade and playing against Mayo. Matthew got a pass on a breakaway, receiving it at the free-throw line. He took one big step toward the basket, put the ball behind his head and threw down a two-handed dunk. In eighth grade! It was pretty clear then that this guy was different. He’s no doubt the best high school player I’ve ever seen from the Rochester area. And he may end up being the state’s best ever. We’ll see.”
Hurt is averaging 30 points and 10 rebounds—and maybe one big-name college coach or recruiter to scout him—per game.
And—you’ve got to remind yourself of this—he’s still a high school sophomore.
“I don’t know how to explain it,” says Richard Hurt Jr., Matthew’s dad. “Sure, basketball has always been a passion of ours. We’re about working hard as a family. But in terms of talent, with all humility, if I look at it realistically, Matthew is as good as it gets.”
‘It’s basketball nonstop for me’
Tonight’s nervous energy is understandable.
Sure, the John Marshall Rockets are playing a rebuilding Red Wing team. But head coach Kirk Thompson is out with the flu. Kurt Meister, the JV coach, is sick as well.
Tom Brown, who normally coaches the B-squad boys, has been pressed into head coaching duties. Richard has moved from his statistician’s seat to one of the assistant coach’s spots on the bench.
“Sure, I’m a bit nervous,” Brown says. “But we’re going to do the same thing Coach Thompson and Coach Meister would. We’re just trying to keep everything the same as possible.”
Keeping things the same as possible would be nice since, in that last meeting, JM handed Red Wing a 96-49 drubbing on the Wingers home court.
For those first six or so minutes of the game, Hurt doesn’t touch the ball as much as you might expect from the state’s second-leading scorer. JM, though, plays a team game—they’re certainly not feeding Hurt to pad his stats—and teammate Dedoch Chan may be the second-best player in the city right now. Teammates Isaiah Walden and Ray Adams may be in the top ten.
But after that initial run, JM—and Hurt—never look back. They take a 42-27 lead into halftime and win going away, 79-45. Hurt finishes with his season average, 30 points and 10 rebounds. On a team that only cared about stats, he probably could have scored 50.
It’s early February, and JM is 14-0 in the conference. They’ve won their last three games by a combined 111 points.
“I just try to attack every game with the same mindset,” says Matthew. “It doesn’t matter who’s watching. I just want to go out every game and do my best.”
With all the interviews he’s given, Hurt’s already got the post-game cliches down pat.
“I just want to win,” he says. “If I’m getting double teamed, and someone’s open, I’m comfortable my teammates will make that shot.”
We’re trying to take it one game at a time, he says. Working to get better every day. A win’s a win.
Just this amount of communication is a huge step forward for Hurt.
“I used to be really shy and I’ve really grown up when it comes to talking on the court,” he says. “Just being around the guys a lot and getting comfortable with them has made it easier and given me more confidence. The coaches are always telling me I need to be a better leader vocal-wise. My brother was a lot more vocal, and he has tried to help me, too.”
His brother is Michael Hurt, the leading scorer in JM boys’ hoops history, a 2015-16 Minnesota Mr. Basketball finalist, and current Minnesota Golden Gopher forward.
Little sister Katie plays on the JM girls’ varsity team. She’s a seventh grader.
Dad Richard played for JM from 1986-89. Mom Jennifer (then Brennan) played from ’87-’90 and was an All-Stater for JM.
“They have a lot of lineage here as far as the talent goes, but they’ve worked incredibly hard,” says Dr. Richard Hurt Sr., Matthew’s grandfather. Dr. Hurt’s part of that lineage too, having played basketball at Murray State in the 1960s. “Matthew and all of the kids have a lot of God-given talent. There’s no question about that.”
But, he says, “my son Richard is probably the best youth basketball coach I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them. He coaches the fundamentals, stresses how to dribble, how to pass. His kids learned early the importance of the basics.”
And, for all of them, the importance of prep work. Michael, who played in RCYBA during elementary school, realized that basketball was his true passion in eighth grade, when he suddenly turned into the stereotypical gym rat. Matthew, then 11, simply tagged along. Soon enough, both brothers started sprouting, long and lean. And both, it turns out, could shoot. And move. The shooting and dribbling drills became more regular, more intense, more brother-pushing-brother.
In his junior year, Michael accepted a scholarship offer from Minnesota.
Matthew, though, says he wants to leave all of his options open.
‘I’m trying to get used to all this’
Matthew hits the weight room three or four days a week (every scouting report mentions he needs to add some bulk to his 199-pound frame), practices at the Rochester Athletic Club a few nights a week, watches basketball games before bed, sneaks in basketball videos on YouTube whenever he can.
“It’s basketball nonstop for me,” says Matthew. “After the game I went home and watched the Kentucky-Georgia game and went upstairs to watch YouTube videos of basketball. It’s almost all I think about.”
Right now, we’re standing in the JM gym, and the photographer for this story—Andrew Link—has set up lighting equipment and is posing Matthew for the shot that will become the cover for this month’s issue. Andy asks Matthew to strike a basketball stance (and he immediately looks more comfortable doing this than just standing there), palm a basketball in each hand (which he can do), spin a ball on his finger (which he can’t do).
The JM players practice on the court behind him and Matthew, like most anyone would be, seems a little uncomfortable with all the attention.
“It’s OK,” he says. “I’m trying to get used to all this.”
All this includes 17 Division I scholarship offers, including ones from powerhouses like Kansas, Louisville, Wisconsin, Arizona, and the Roy Williams’ coached North Carolina.
Oh, and Minnesota, where Hurt could reunite with big brother Michael.
The last game the two played in together, incidentally, was JM’s heartbreaking 60-58 loss to Lakeville North in last year’s Section 4A championship game, that last step before the state tournament.
And it was Lakeville North that bounced JM in 2015, when Matthew was a varsity-playing eighth grader and JM lost 96-61. Lakeville North, in fact, has beaten JM in the last four Section championship games.
While Matthew deflects questions about personal goals (he could, realistically, break the area boys’ career scoring record in his junior year), he does admit to a team goal—getting to that state tourney.
It’s something his dad never did. His mom never made it. His brother fell those two points short in his final game.
“We’re trying to get to state, but we’re taking that one game at a time,” he says. “First, the sectional quarterfinals, then the sectional semifinals, then you never know.”
But if you had to guess, your best bet would be a fifth straight matchup against Lakeville North.
“That’s a long way off,” he says.
And the being a kid thing? “I feel like I can be a 16-year-old kid,” he says. “We have fun. But maybe I’m not a kid when I get on the court, because it’s strictly business. This is what I want to do.”
Matthew Hurt finishes up his photo shoot and walks back across the court to get teased by his friends for it. Then heads home to eat dinner, finish up his homework, watch the Timberwolves game, play a little Call of Duty, scroll through YouTube videos, and, maybe somewhere in between all of it, make a call just to talk basketball to someone like Roy Williams, who may be chartering that private jet to come watch him play.