It should have come as no surprise that Kansas State won its biggest game of the season on the same day Stephen Hurt played his best.
K-State basketball coach Bruce Weber has praised Hurt, a 6-foot-11 junior forward, since he signed with the Wildcats last fall. It was only a matter of time, he insisted, before Hurt made the adjustment from junior college to Division I and made an impact on the basketball court.
He has done that and more in K-State’s past two games, finishing with 15 points and eight rebounds in a confidence-shifting victory at Oklahoma and then doing a little bit of everything in a win against Texas Tech.
“The way he is playing, it’s a huge lift for the whole team,” K-State guard Justin Edwards said. “Hurt is a really good shooter for a big man, and he proved it against Oklahoma. Hopefully, now teams will start to realize that, and it will open things up for the rest of us.”
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Hurt expected to do that immediately after arriving during the offseason. It simply took him longer than expected to shake a groin injury in December and make the transition to major-college basketball.
His favorite player is Dallas Mavericks all-star Dirk Nowitzki and he models his game after the sharp-shooting forward, stepping outside for jumpers as well as banging with other front-court players for rebounds under the basket. That versatility is a welcome addition to Weber’s offense, as long as Hurt is willing to stay within its confines.
That means setting screens, aggressively shooting mid-range shots off the pick-and-roll and turning down threes.
“When he has his feet and legs set,” Weber said, “he has that great rotation and touch and follow-through on the ball.”
An even-keeled demeanor has helped Hurt steadily improve.
“It is great that he has kept a great attitude,” Weber said. “He comes every day and battles. He is not the most athletic yet. He needs to get his body better, but he has been a blessing for us. He has matured, he is older, and he has kept a great attitude. It is great that he was able to have a good game and maybe move forward and build confidence.”
Hurt is trying to do exactly that.
“Coach would rather have me doing pick-and-pop and focusing more on the mid-range. That is my area,” Hurt said. “But if the three is open, he lets me shoot it. So it depends on the situation, but he has trust in me. In practice, I have found spots where I can score, and it is more instinct now. I know where to score and how to help my teammates out, whether it (is) screening or different things. It is definitely more instinctive. I am thinking less now.”
That was most obvious against Oklahoma, when he entered the game in relief of starting forward Thomas Gipson and hit jumper after jumper to help K-State pull off the upset.
Hurt was averaging about 14 minutes going into that game, and his willingness to take unguarded, outside shots likely surprised Oklahoma defenders. But he has averaged 20 minutes since, and he is beginning to show up on opposing scouting reports.
He is ready to step up his game accordingly and to keep K-State’s three-game winning streak going against Baylor on Saturday.
“We are definitely finding ways to push through adversity,” Hurt said. “I would say we are clicking as a team at a really good time. We just have to keep things going.”