In a season where the stars have not shone brightly for the K-State men’s basketball team, it’s been role players who have the spotlight’s focus.
It’s almost never sustained illumination, but flashes of greatness, that have lit up some of the Wildcats’ best performances throughout the year.
Junior forward Stephen Hurt has been one of those flashes several times this season in a year so devoid of light.
Hurt came to Manhattan via one of the top-25 best JUCO teams in the country in Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, Florida. The 6-foot-11-inch Murfreesboro, Tennessee native offered a large skill set to his fellow Raiders teammates, as well as visiting Division I coaches searching for talent.
Whether from long or mid-range, Hurt possesses the ability to spread out defenders by having a jumper that many big men at this level do not possess. That, amongst other abilities, is what had schools like Indiana, Wichita State and K-State at his doorstep.
“Coach (Bruce) Weber and Coach (Alvin) Brooks were my main recruiters, and last summer they started recruiting me,” Hurt said. “I had a couple of showcases and they were at all of them. They just started talking to me early and I got along with them pretty much off the bat.”
Hurt’s signing with the Wildcats was met with acclaim by K-State fans who saw him as a part of a possible three-headed monster down low with senior Thomas Gipson and sophomore transfer Brandon Bolden.
Then, Wildcat fans saw him take the court against Southern Utah in the season opener. With Gipson out due to injuries early in the season, Hurt saw his biggest patch of minutes, and in that stretch, he drove Bramlage wild with his first 3-pointer as a Wildcat.
However, the conversation always seemed to quickly turn from his performance to the infamous 1970s-esque goggles he sports.
“I tore the iris in my right eye during my last year of JUCO, so they’re just to protect my eye,” Hurt said. “They’re not perscription or anything.”
After the heavy dose of playing time at beginning of the season, Hurt’s minutes and points started to decline as other players were getting healthy and the speed and added difficulties associated with Division I were catching up to him.
But after a stretch of several games where Hurt failed to score five or more points, the junior exploded back into the hearts and minds of K-State fans, scoring 15-key points in an overtime victory versus No. 16 Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma.
“I had spoke to coach (Weber) previous to the game and he was really positive about me and stuff like that and that was a confidence booster, which I guess paid off in the game,” Hurt said. “I had my best game of the year.”
Hurt went 6-10 from the field against the Sooners in addition to eight rebounds. A feat especially impressive considering that he was matching up against the unofficial rebound king of the Big 12 in Oklahoma junior forward Ryan Spangler.
“Stephen Hurt was big time,” Weber said after the Jan. 10 game. “Stephen has kind of been stuck in the middle because we rely so much on Thomas (Gipson) … Hurt comes every day and plays hard. He’s probably not ready physically and he needs some time in the weight room, but he’s been really patient and kept a great attitude and he got his chance tonight … He made some huge, huge plays for us.”
The Oklahoma victory became a landmark win so far this season that only would be matched by the second win against the Sooners taking place in Manhattan.
Hurt was not as offensively dominant as he was in the previous matchup, but he made his presence known defensively in his 17 minutes, using his length to disrupt the high-powered Sooners offense.
Hurt may not have found his consistency, especially on the offense end so far this season. But, it’s been these glimpses of the kind of player who could be for K-State that is giving some hope in a situation that’s hard to handle.
For now, all parties involved turn towards No. 8 Kansas and the final regular season Sunflower Showdown of the year. Hurt still sees light at the end of K-State’s postseason tunnel and wants both he and his teammates to use their hard work to get a shot in basking in it.
“Obviously, with the outcome, I want us to win,” Hurt said. “But I just want us to keep getting better, win or lose. Knowing that we might not be able to obtain an at-large bid, we can still get to the (NCAA) Tournament through the Big 12 Tournament. We just have to stay focused and try to get better every day.”