The Duke basketball freshman who arrived with the most scoring hype has shown through his play that wins matter more to him than personal point totals.
No doubt some five-stars are prima donnas and put personal stats over the team — i.e., NBA Draft over March Madness. Every year, like clockwork, the Allaboutme family sends Showy, Ballhog, and Hypochondriac off to college to toxify blue-blood locker rooms. Some years, Mike Krzyzewski and his staff accidentally allow one to infiltrate the Duke basketball family.
Matthew Hurt is NOT one. Guaranteed. Though none of the current freshmen in Durham have displayed even the slightest hint of selfishness through the No. 1 Blue Devils’ 4-0 start, Hurt is the one who has already proven — to this set of eyes, anyway — that his needle is glued to the “selfless” end of the dial.
Admittedly, the worry entering the season was that Hurt — a one-and-done prospect who earned a No. 12 ranking on the 247Sports 2019 Composite after averaging nearly 40 points as a senior at a public high school in Minnesota — would struggle to cope with seeing single-digit shot attempts some games.
After all, the 6-foot-9, 215-pound power forward could pull his quick trigger with every touch. But if he did, especially on his cold nights, he’d likely ding what appears to be one of the most encouraging offensive tidbits about this season’s Blue Devils: any one of the top eight could lead the team in scoring on any given night.
During Duke’s latest win, 74-63 at home over Georgia State on Friday night, Hurt’s hand was the most frigid it’s been this season, contributing to the too-close-for-comfort score across much of the game.
However, Hurt’s putback to end the first half — the last of his four points for the game, making him 2-for-5 from the field at the time — saved Duke the embarrassment of heading into the locker room with anything other than the lead.
After the break, following two quick checks for the return of his accuracy via two failed 3-point attempts, Hurt landed on the bench with 17 minutes to play and a tie score. After coming back in four minutes later, the 19-year-old never shot again — but not because of a lack of open looks.
Instead, the rest of the way, Hurt maturely passed up open looks in order to act as a facilitator. Had Hurt forced the issue in order to spruce up his scoring numbers for his potential future employers, the Blue Devils might have become the jerks who snapped the program’s non-conference home win streak that dates back to the Clinton Presidency.
So with one offensive rebound after another — six for the game as the team combined for 30, a record under Coach K — rather than stubbornly attempt to catch fire without regard to what’s best for the squad, Hurt fired the ball out to the perimeter. Sure, he didn’t receive credit for any assists, but his swift passes helped to reset the offense — twice eventually leading to points — and to take time off the clock as Duke nursed a lead.
And even in the closing minutes, when the Blue Devils had put the lead out of reach, Hurt passed up opportunities to pad his stats — impressive at the time for a guy who was about to finish with four points for a game, probably his lowest-scoring outing since hitting puberty.
In fact, throughout this early portion of the schedule, arguably his top contribution has been his instinctive, team-first decisions with the ball in his hands. Though Hurt, who has started all but one game and is averaging 22.3 minutes, is only averaging 10.8 points — a handful less than this writer predicted — his 3-point percentage (41.2 despite his latest 0-for-3 clip) and limited turnovers (only four through three games) are appealing.
Most beautiful, though, are Hurt’s floor burns. Even though he still has a long way to go before becoming a spitting image of the former Blue Devil this lifelong Duke fan has compared him to the most — Danny Ferry — his willingness to dive headfirst for loose balls is a good start.
Not only is all this selfless behavior surprising given his five-star status, but it’s also particularly reminiscent of how Ferry acted on his way to hanging No. 35 in Cameron Indoor Stadium’s rafters and becoming this writer’s first Duke basketball hero at the age of six.
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Put simply, speaking of six and things hanging inside Cameron, without Hurt’s team-over-stats mentality, the Blue Devils — who next face Cal on Thursday at 9:30 p.m. EST from Madison Square Garden (ESPN2) — wouldn’t stand a chance to hang the sixth of the most precious type of banner.