This Duke freshman already has older teammates saying ‘I love playing with Matt Hurt’

In only a couple weeks of practice, Duke freshman Matthew Hurt is showing on-court acumen to feed hope he could be the big-time scorer the Blue Devils need this season.

“He has a real, I guess if you were a dancer, he has a feel for the music of the game,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said Tuesday at the ACC Operation Basketball media event. “He can kind of dance to whatever’s going. He does it naturally. I think he’s totally immersed in the game and he can make multiple plays -- he can pass, he can shoot, he can dribble, he can rebound.”

A 6-9, 215-pound forward from Rochester, Minnesota, Hurt’s talents place him in the mold of Duke’s past one-and-done forwards like Brandon Ingram, Jayson Tatum, Marvin Bagley and RJ Barrett.

He has the size to play inside but the shooting ability and all-court skills to handle himself on the perimeter offensively and defensively.

His shooting, in particular, has stood out so far.

“Sharp shooter,” Duke senior forward Javin DeLaurier said Tuesday. “If he’s open, it’s a bucket.”

Following on Krzyzewski’s earlier analogy, that’s sweet music to the Blue Devils and their fans.

A year ago, Duke made just 30.8 percent of its 3-pointers as a team, No. 327 among 353 Division I teams nationwide.

If Hurt shoots in games as well as he has been in practice, he’ll bring the scoring punch Duke desperately needs after losing Zion Williamson and Barrett to the NBA. As freshmen last season, Williamson and Barrett each averaged 22.6 points per game in helping Duke to a 32-6 record and an ACC championship.

Hurt is the early favorite to be Duke’s top scorer this season.

“He’s been great,” Duke senior forward Jack White said. “His shooting is incredible at his size.”

Duke’s coaches and veteran players are taken with Hurt’s court awareness, especially considering his young age.

“He’s really smart,” White said. “He always seems to be in the right spot. Always on the boards. He kind of has a knack for being where the ball is and where he needs to be. That’s just helped him make plays.”

Those attributes show up on defense as well as offense. Hurt has become adept at coming across the court from the weak side, away from the ball, to block shots.

Duke freshman center Vernon Carey, at 6-10 and 270 pounds, is built to comport himself in the rugged interior during ACC play. Hurt is about 50 pounds lighter, so his adjustment from high school will be different and, in some ways, more challenging than his class mate.

But since arriving on campus this summer, Hurt has already been working hard with Duke’s strength and conditioning staff to prepare himself physically.

“I’ll say this,” White said, “he’s slender upper body but I think he’s got a really good base. He moves really well. I’ve already noticed some changes in his athleticism and his body. He’s still a young guy. He’s developing a lot.”

While that physical part develops, that court awareness sets Hurt apart, DeLaurier said.

“I love playing with Matt Hurt,” DeLaurier said. “Matt Hurt is always exactly where I want Matt Hurt to be. He just understands the game so well, plays hard.”

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer

An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.