Sophomore forward Matthew Hurt spoke with the media Tuesday afternoon, discussing his 20 pounds of added muscle, his change in mentality entering the season and more. Here are five takeaways:
A common point of attack from Duke's opponents last year was Hurt's slim physique. The 6-foot-9 forward often got pushed around in the post, with opposing teams exploiting his struggles on the defensive end and limiting his role on the offensive end. So, Hurt made it a focus to improve upon that part of his game during this unique summer of quarantine, noting that his playing weight is around 240 pounds this season compared to 220 a year ago.
"I got home around mid-March last year, took a week or two off since the season ended and just [tried] to focus on eating right, eating a lot and just stay working out and lifting," Hurt said. "I got with our strength coach, Coach [William Stephens]—three, four times a week we lifted. So just doing that every day during quarantine. I was lucky enough to find a gym and a weight room, so I was blessed with that. I think just doing that day by day, until I came back to Duke on August 2, was really beneficial for me."
Hurt added that the extra strength will allow him to better defend opposing power forwards, a weakness that forced head coach Mike Krzyzewski to keep the sharpshooter off the floor for long stretches last season. But the defensive side isn't the only part of Hurt's game that will benefit from the added pounds.
"I'm a lot more comfortable in the post.... But also driving, too," Hurt said. "I think just being stronger with the ball, there's going to be a lot of people trying to swipe at the ball when I'm driving in the lane, but just trying to be strong and just go through contact."
Getting out in transition
Just like pretty much every other player who's talked to the media so far this preseason, Hurt mentioned "playing fast" and "getting out in transition" as some of the key strengths of this year's squad. Per KenPom, the Blue Devils ranked 34th in the country in adjusted tempo and 49th in average offensive possession length last season, down from 20th and 16th a year prior.
From what we've heard from Hurt and his teammates, however, expect this season's numbers to inch closer to that of the Zion and R.J. show in 2018-19.
"We have a lot of athletic guys on our team," Hurt said. "And just just showing what they're capable in transition is very special."
One specific member of that athletic group is freshman forward Jalen Johnson. The Wisconsin native, who comes to Duke as the No. 13 recruit in the country, has the athleticism, vision and finishing ability that could remind fans of Jabari Parker's time in Durham when all's said and done.
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"Jalen out in transition—very special, very special," Hurt said.
Mark Williams, defensive anchor
While one of Hurt's main focuses over the offseason was improving on the defensive end, his role simply will never be that of defensive anchor. Rather, that title will likely belong to Mark Williams.
Williams—a 7-foot center who is the younger brother of former Blue Devil women's basketball star Elizabeth Williams—comes to Duke as the No. 32 player in the Class of 2020, and has already made his presence felt on the floor.
"I didn't see much of [Williams] in high school, but seeing him live and playing against him—shot blocker, [he tries] to block everything," Hurt said. "Sometimes he goaltends, but most of the time he blocks it. So I think just having that rim presence really helps."
Changing his mentality
Many saw Hurt, who was the No. 11 ranked recruit in the Class of 2019, as a potential one-and-done last season and the perfect stretch big for the modern NBA. But the Minnesota native struggled to live up to that billing, averaging a mere 9.7 points and 3.8 rebounds in 20.5 minutes per game.
A large part of the reason for his underwhelming freshman campaign was his limited ability on the defensive end, but another aspect that often goes unnoticed is confidence, something associate head coach Jon Scheyer told The Athletic is another focus for Hurt heading into this year.
"My mentality [has] changed a lot since last year," Hurt said. "I think just being aggressive and just trying to be the best best player on the floor each time...just trying to be aggressive and just trying to shoot my shots that I've practiced my whole life."
The little things
Most fans would agree the two highlights of Duke's 2019-20 season were the buzzer-beaters via Tre Jones and Wendell Moore Jr. that took down North Carolina in Chapel Hill. But another play that has fallen under the radar was Hurt's clutch offensive rebound to clinch a victory against No. 8 Florida State two days later.
Hurt says another goal of his entering this 2020-21 campaign is making more of those kinds of hustle plays, the little things that really win college basketball games.
"Last year, I don't think I competed in the way that I should [have] and the way I'm capable [of]," Hurt said. "So I think that rebound was a was a good example of showing the younger guys what it takes to get a rebound and ACC."
Duke's coaching staff seems to share the same focus.
"A couple of the clips in practice they were showing—charges, deflections and everything," Hurt said. "Just the little plays that add up to big plays."