As fall turns to winter on the college basketball recruiting calendar, UK’s attention turns to a more focused group of remaining targets in the 2019 class, and Matthew Hurt might be at the very top of the Wildcats’ wish list.
Hurt — a 6-foot-9 forward from Rochester, Minn. — has long been a top priority for John Calipari’s program, and UK will be the first school to host Hurt and his family for an official visit when they welcome the five-star recruit to town this weekend.
Ranked No. 7 nationally by Rivals.com, Hurt projects as an instant-impact player at the college level with a growing game that is well-suited for contemporary shifts in the sport.
“Matt kind of comes of age at the ideal time,” Rivals.com national analyst Corey Evans told the Herald-Leader. “He’s the multi-positional forward prospect that can think the game and can also make the right play, but, even more so, make shots. That’s the most valuable thing that he brings to the floor, just because of the value of guys like that in today’s game.
“He’s always been kind of a spot-up guy in the past, but I think his ball skills have really developed to the point now that he can be deemed a three-level scorer and be used in a variety of roles and variety of situations on the offensive end.”
MaxPreps.com named Hurt a first-team junior All-American following last season, when he averaged 33.9 points, 15.0 rebounds, 3.9 blocks and 3.6 assists per game. He was one of the top players on the Adidas circuit this past summer and also displayed his improved ability behind the arc in various settings, shooting nearly 50 percent from three-point range in Adidas play and making 12 of 20 threes (60 percent) in six games with the USA Basketball U18 squad that won a FIBA gold medal in June.
Hurt isn’t just a tall guy who likes to shoot, however. He rose to recruiting fame due to his skill and touch in the post, and his ranking has remained high as he’s rounded out other parts of his game.
“He definitely can score in the post. Definitely has a great mid-post game,” Evans said. “The one thing that’s kind of holding him back is his strength. He has to get stronger. Sometimes, when you don’t have that strength, you kind of slight a kid for being soft. He’s not soft. It’s more about, can he put on the proper weight to bang down low and hold his ground. He can do it right now. But, as we all know, when you get to college it’s a different scenario.”
His size and skill set make Hurt an ideal complement to a bigger post player at the next level. UK could have a returning player at that spot — Nick Richards or EJ Montgomery, perhaps — or the Cats could add a late addition from a graduate transfer or reclassified player currently in the 2020 class.
Hurt wouldn’t solve Kentucky’s possible need for a “5” next season, but he would certainly help the Cats’ likely shortage of frontcourt players, and he’d be another skilled addition to a class that already includes point guard Tyrese Maxey and wings Kahlil Whitney and Dontaie Allen.
Evans’ colleague at Rivals.com, national analyst Eric Bossi, wrote this week that UK has been “picking up a little steam” in Hurt’s recruitment over the past few weeks. Evans also said that “things have picked up” a little more between Hurt and Kentucky recently.
“Do I think they’re the team to beat? I don’t,” he said. “But I also didn’t (previously) think they’d be that much of a contender for him, and to get this visit from him — the first one — I think says something.”
Kansas has long been the perceived favorite in Hurt’s recruitment. He’s been a key player on the Adidas circuit throughout his high school career and played for Jayhawks Coach Bill Self with the USA Basketball team over the summer. Evans is among several Rivals.com analysts predicting Hurt to KU, and the Jayhawks also have a majority of the picks on his 247Sports Crystal Ball page.
That program has been prominently mentioned in the ongoing college basketball corruption case, however, and that narrative is likely to continue throughout the season. The Jayhawks have just two 2019 commitments — neither a Top 100 national recruit — and their class is ranked No. 49 nationally by Rivals.com.
Evans said he expects Hurt to take additional official visits to Duke, Kansas, North Carolina and Memphis and an unofficial visit to Minnesota, where his brother, Michael Hurt, is a junior forward. The national analyst also expects this to be one of the last high-profile recruitments to be decided in the 2019 cycle.
“I think it’s definitely a spring decision,” Evans said. “You never know. Recruiting’s weird. But I would bet that he’s going to be one of the last ones to commit and sign.”