About halfway through his son’s Monday morning practice session to start off McDonald’s All-American Game week, Richard Hurt stepped away from the court for a quick phone call.
The voice on the other end was UK assistant coach Joel Justus.
Hurt’s son, Matthew, is one of the best basketball prospects in the 2019 class, and — despite recent buzz in recruiting circles that others might be at the top of his list — Kentucky is still fighting hard for his commitment.
The Cats already have a talented group of incoming forwards who, like Hurt, prefer to play on the perimeter. Kahlil Whitney, Keion Brooks and Dontaie Alen all fit that description. It hasn’t stopped John Calipari and his coaching staff from continuing to target Hurt, a 6-foot-9 prospect from Minnesota who averaged 37 points and 12 rebounds as a senior this season and is a threat from three-point range.
“They haven’t wavered,” Richard Hurt told the Herald-Leader immediately after his conversation with Justus. “People have made a big deal — whether it’s Keion or Kahlil or Dontaie — in terms of positioning. One of the messages that he actually literally just relayed is, ‘You’re a basketball player. If you’re a basketball player you can play, and we’ll find a spot for you on the floor.’
“So it’s less about, ‘How many small forwards are there? How many power forwards are there?’ Because I think Coach Calipari — and he hasn’t said this — but I think, if Ashton (Hagans) came back, he could roll out a point guard and maybe four forwards. And then have a great rotation with some of these other guys. … He’s been a top priority — if not the top priority — for them for over a year. And they haven’t wavered in that at all. At all.”
Who comes back this season will be a major factor in Hurt’s decision, his father said. And it’s going to be a tough decision to make.
Hurt — the No. 8 player in the class, according to the 247Sports composite rankings — has taken official visits to Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and North Carolina. He’s also listing Memphis and home-state Minnesota — where his brother plays — but it appears this recruitment will come down to the four blue-blood programs. His decision date is set for April 19, the day before his 19th birthday.
Richard Hurt talked Monday about the point guard situations at each of those four schools, and how much that would play a part in his son’s recruitment.
“If you’re a guy that doesn’t have the ball in your hands a lot, you want to know who’s going to be facilitating for you,” he said. “And if Ashton stays, obviously that’s a big checkmark in favor of Kentucky. The same thing could be said about Tre Jones at Duke. Coby (White) at North Carolina. Devon Dotson is probably going to stay (at Kansas).”
Hagans is currently projected as a mid-second round pick by ESPN, and it’s unclear whether or not he will be back at UK after this season. Jones is the No. 32 prospect on ESPN’s draft list, and White is projected as a lottery pick (though UNC is also considered the favorite for five-star point guard Cole Anthony).
Even if Hagans leaves, UK will have other talented point guards. Immanuel Quickley is expected to be back for a sophomore year. And Tyrese Maxey, another McDonald’s All-American, will be a freshman for the Wildcats next season. Maxey and Hurt were teammates with USA Basketball over the summer, and they shared the court again Monday.
“He’s obviously gotten to spend a lot of time with Tyrese,” Hurt’s father said. “He loves Tyrese.”
The Hurt family has closely studied Matthew’s suitors over the course of this season, breaking down each team’s games and looking at where and how he might fit in with each program next season. If they can’t watch a game live, they’ll DVR it to watch later: “He does that with all the schools. We’re attentive to how they run things, what they do. Because that’s important to him.”
His father said Matthew was traveling to Atlanta on Saturday and concerned that he might not make it in time to see the UK-Wofford matchup in the NCAA Tournament. (He did, in fact, get to see the game).
With the college announcement a little more than three weeks away, the speculation on where Hurt will end up is only growing. Kansas was long seen as the favorite in his recruitment, partly due to the fact that Hurt has been loyal to the Adidas circuit, where his father has been a team director over the past few summers.
More recently, Duke has emerged as a popular pick on Hurt’s Crystal Ball page. “I don’t know where all the talk came from,” the five-star recruit told the Herald-Leader. “I guess everybody said I had a good visit. (But) I had good visits on every visit.”
Hurt’s father said that whatever recruiting buzz has leaked out so far isn’t coming from them. And he made it clear that UK is still very much in the picture.
“I’ve told people until I’m blue in the face: ‘That’s based on no information from us.’ I’ve seen things written. I’ve seen things said like, ‘Oh, I knew Matt wasn’t going to go to Kentucky anyway.’ Pardon my French, that’s bull----. Because, at the end of the day, that’s information that’s based on speculation. It’s not coming from us.
“He’s going to do what’s right for him. He’s going to make the best decision for him. He’s going to evaluate all the things he needs to evaluate. And he’s still doing that. There really is not a quote-unquote leader at this point. I think he can see himself going to all four of those schools, easily.”