ROCHESTER – The 6-7, 190-pound teenager lumbers through the door at Grandma’s house looking for food, just as he does most days.
It’s 2:15 p.m., time for one of Gophers freshman Michael Hurt’s eight meals.
By the time this May Monday is through, he’ll stuff down 7,500 calories. For now, it’s just a few hundred served up by Gail Brennan, Hurt’s maternal grandmother. Some days, Hurt and his younger brother, Matthew, will be treated to macaroni and cheese, or pasta with meatballs. Today, it’s a quick fix for the senior at Rochester John Marshall: a hot bowl of SpaghettiOs.
Hurt pours a glass of milk — the Hurts regularly go through 10 gallons of milk a week — and asks for the can. He needs to enter the calories into an iPhone app that helps him track his diet necessary to put on weight, gain strength and offset long days full of workouts.
These days, more than two months later, Hurt is on University of Minnesota’s campus, enveloped in summer training with the rest of the basketball team.
But back in early May, the impetus behind Hurt’s strict routine is himself — with strong support from parents, siblings and grandparents — in his pursuit of a lifelong dream: being a Gopher.
One of Michael Hurt's eight meals a day in May
One hour after refueling at Grandma’s house, Hurt catches the ball on the perimeter, sets his feet and whips into his shooting form in one fluid motion.
Racing to a spot on the gym floor, Hurt shrugs his shoulders once, lifting his arms and releasing, his left hand suspending in air as the ball rips through the twine.
The scoreboard doesn’t move. The only noise in the Rochester Athletic Club gym, save from the steady beat of a basketball on hardwood, is in Hurt’s head, where there is a high-pressure game being played and Drake’s hip-hop blasting from white earbuds.
This is another shooting drill, one of thousands that fill entire offseason days for Hurt. He hopes these reps, with the imagined tension and loud music, will help him get comfortable with intense moments and Williams Arena crowds when he steps on the raised court this fall.
“I’m just trying to challenge myself,” Hurt says. “Do the best I can outside of a game setting, so that when a game comes, I’m ready.”
Hurt’s devotion to basketball began innocently enough in elementary school. After his eighth-grade year, the hobby exploded into passion. The routines began with early mornings and late nights.
Younger brother Matthew was along for the ride then, often being dragged to the gym with Michael.
As those early weeks and months went by, with Michael quietly encouraging his younger brother, Matthew’s immense talent emerged. Both lanky brothers were sprouting upward and outward quickly — Michael has size 15 shoes, Matthew size 17. Both could shoot. But things came easier for Matthew. Michael, 18, the more outgoing and serious of the two, would key up a laser focus for every rep of every drill. Matthew, 16, the quieter, more laid-back brother, could saunter in the gym, goof around and drop jaws.
An incoming sophomore at Rochester John Marshall, Matthew got his first scholarship offer, from Iowa State, in eighth grade. When he came home for dinner that night, his mom, Jenny, immediately wagged her finger at him.
“Don’t you go getting a big head now,” she said.
Last year, Iowa coach Fran McCaffery saw Matthew, who is 6-9, at an open gym and told him he was going to end up being an NBA lottery pick. This spring, Xavier coach Chris Mack saw Matthew at a tournament and thought he must be a top-50 player. When he scanned the 2017 rankings, he didn’t see his name. Then the reality hit him: Matthew was in the 2019 class. He was a freshman.
High school sophomore Matthew Hurt works out
On this May morning, Richard Hurt got a call with new interest in Matthew from UCLA in the time it took to get from Grandma’s house to the RAC.
“I joke with my wife,” said Richard, who, like Jenny, also played high school hoops at Rochester John Marshall. “If we ever run into his real dad, don’t bruise my ego and point him out.”
Striving for the future
In the classroom, the natural advantages flip. Both are good students but it comes easier for Michael, who graduated with a 4.6 GPA and is mulling an eventual future of medical school. Unsure of what level his basketball talents would take him, he stuck with the scholastic grind.
One spring morning during his sophomore year, his dad was driving him to the season’s first AAU practice, the start of a summer that would put Michael on the college basketball map. They talked about goals and schedules and getting better. Then Richard asked Michael what he wanted for the future.
“If I can,” he told his dad, “I’d like to play for the University of Minnesota.”
Less than a year later, the dream got a little closer. When Gophers coach Richard Pitino offered him a scholarship, Michael could hardly contain his enthusiasm, despite Minnesota’s 0-5 start in Big Ten play. On Jan. 19, 2015, Michael announced his commitment, focusing, as he always has, on the future, not the present.
Now, following an even worse season that saw the Gophers record only eight victories, Michael is as confident as ever that a turnaround will come.
“It was everything he wanted,” Richard Hurt said. “I think it was pretty easy for him.”
More recruiters, more work
On this May day, Michael makes his rounds at school in a pair of Gophers shorts and a maroon shirt with a golden ‘M’ in observance of “decision day” for senior athletes. There is no drama here: Michael announced his decision more than a year earlier, giving the Gophers a solid three-star wing.
It’s the recruitment of freshman Matthew that is getting serious attention, even on this day for seniors.
“It’s been a crazy morning,” says Richard as he collapses onto the Brennans’ couch.
A couple of hours earlier, he had learned of North Carolina’s interest in his younger son. A couple hours later, the call from UCLA would come. This all comes a few weeks after Minnesota joined the rising number of Matthew’s suitors by offering a scholarship.
And now Roy Williams wanted to talk?
“I don’t know,” Richard says, shaking his head. “He hasn’t even finished his first year of high school.”
The Hurt brothers barely have time to let the craziness sink in. Matthew skipped Grandma’s house this day because of a driver’s education class, but he would meet up with his brother — and sister, Katie, 12, who is modeling her game after her two big bros — at the RAC, another daily affair.
The Hurts and their father after a workout
There, Michael puts up hundreds of shots, trying to master different spots on the floor. He does pushups when he misses, or even when the ball touches the rim going in rather than with a clean swish. When his body and mind are fully exhausted, that’s when Michael brings out the earbuds and focus drills. That’s the time when it matters most.
After about two hours of work, the brothers head to Mayo Clinic’s sports medicine center for a plyometrics session and an hour of weight training. They stuff themselves inside Michael’s maroon Honda Civic — seats pushed back all the way, two masses of joints and limbs folded into a shopping cart — two grinning teenagers who, for all appearances, might as well be headed to the mall.
A brothers’ bond
NBA playoff action buzzes from the Hurts’ living room TV. Almost 14 hours after it began, Michael and Matthew’s marathon day continues. The brothers scarf down ham and cheese sub sandwiches — Michael has two, along with three glasses of milk. There’s mostly silence as the two eat, communicating occasionally with their eyes, an unspoken brotherly bond, woven in part through basketball.
They played on the same court for the past two seasons, solidifying chemistry more than a decade in the making. Michael finished his high school career somewhat in the shadow of his baby brother. And he couldn’t be happier about it.
“My favorite part of high school was playing with him,” Michael says. “I’m so proud of him.”
The Gophers’ hope is that they can facilitate an on-court reunion when Matthew is eligible just more than two years from now. Michael already is recruiting him.
“He would change things,” Michael says.
Matthew absent-mindedly pops a few potato chips in his mouth.
“We’ll see,” he says, smiling slightly. “It’s a good possibility.”
The brothers at home
Michael has humble expectations. He’s not going to the Gophers to be a star, despite the competitive juices that flow through his veins. He’s going to play to his ultimate potential, one he has been stretching with every drill logged. He’s going to fall in line, to help the team, to spend some time again in the shadow with his recruiting class rounded out by Minnesota’s top recruit, guard Amir Coffey of Hopkins.
In May, it was still the routine that mattered most. The meal wraps up around 8 p.m., but the day is not done.
With full bellies, Michael will drive them back to the RAC for more shooting, more stretching and unwinding in the hot tub before returning home, where Michael will finish another day on his way toward his dream by shoveling down the remaining 1,000 calories needed for his quota.
“This is what he does,” Richard says. “This is what he has always done.”