UK Recruiting

Why a Duke basketball player’s return could hurt Kentucky recruiting efforts

Top basketball prospect Matthew Hurt talks about UK and recruiting

Five-star basketball recruit Matthew Hurt has scholarship offers from Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, North Carolina and several other schools.
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Five-star basketball recruit Matthew Hurt has scholarship offers from Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, North Carolina and several other schools.

It was officially announced Monday that freshman point guard Tre Jones will return to Duke for his sophomore season, and that decision could end up having a negative effect on Kentucky’s recruiting efforts to close the 2019 cycle.

The Cats’ top remaining target in the 2019 class is five-star forward Matthew Hurt, who has been closely monitoring the roster situations at each of his finalists — UK, Duke, Kansas and North Carolina — as he nears his April 19 announcement date.

Duke had already emerged in recent weeks as a possible favorite for Hurt — something the player’s father denied in a recent interview with the Herald-Leader — and Jones’ decision to return can only help the Blue Devils’ chances.

While Richard Hurt said there was no favorite for his son’s commitment as of a couple of weeks ago, he did acknowledge that the point guard situation at each school would have a major impact on the decision. He said if Ashton Hagans returns for a second season, it would be “a big checkmark in favor of Kentucky.” Hurt’s father also said that his son enjoyed playing next to incoming UK guard Tyrese Maxey.

Matthew Hurt will play in the McDonald’s All-American Game on Wednesday night. Brian Spurlock McDonalds

Jones — a fellow Minnesota native — sounded like he was at the top of the list, however, as far as point guards that would be the best fit for Hurt next season. “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,” Richard Hurt said, specifically mentioning Jones’ point guard abilities.

Jones averaged 5.3 assists and just 1.5 turnovers per game this past season, setting the table for super recruits Zion Williamson, RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish, and he’d likely have an even larger offensive role next season. Duke is also bringing in five-star small forward Wendell Moore and five-star center Vernon Carey — both McDonald’s All-Americans — along with top-50 guard Boogie Ellis.

Shortly after it became clear that Jones would be staying with Duke for another season, national recruiting expert Andrew Slater logged a prediction in favor of the Blue Devils’ on Hurt’s Crystal Ball page. Around that same time, national analyst Corey Evans logged a Duke pick on Hurt’s Rivals page. 247Sports analysts Evan Daniels, Jerry Meyer and Brian Snow had already made pro-Duke predictions in Hurt’s recruitment.

Jones’ decision to play a second season at Duke could also affect five-star combo guard RJ Hampton, another major UK recruiting target.

Hampton’s father, Rod, told ZagsBlog over the weekend that they were monitoring Jones’ status as RJ contemplates a move from the 2020 class to the 2019 class. Rod Hampton, who was also RJ’s coach on the Under Armour circuit, hasn’t been shy about wanting to get the ball in his son’s hands at the college level, something he reiterated this past weekend. Jones will have the bulk of that role at Duke next season.

Kentucky has a stacked backcourt as well, however, even if Hagans chooses to test this pros this offseason. Immanuel Quickley is expected to return for a second season, and Maxey — a willing passer and terrific on-ball scoring threat — will be a freshman for the Wildcats.

“They got Hagans, but they got Maxey coming,” Rod told ZagsBlog. “But they play multiple guards so I just want to be able to handle the ball, put the ball in his hands, make plays, that’s what he does best.”

Hampton’s other two finalists are Kansas and Memphis, and the Tigers’ roster might be best-suited for Hampton to get ample on-ball opportunities next season. He’s also close friends with five-star post player James Wiseman, a Memphis signee and the No. 1 player in the 2019 class.

The 6-foot-5 guard from Texas is moving to the Nike circuit this spring and isn’t expected to make a reclassification decision until the summer. Around the same time Slater made a Crystal Ball pick sending Hurt to Duke, he also logged a prediction of Hampton to Memphis.