When Stephen Hurt steps onto the court he is hard to miss. At 295 pounds, he easily is the state's largest Division I basketball player.
In order to expand his basketball skills, however, his coaches at Lipscomb University believe his waistline must get smaller.
“I know there is a lot of room to improve because I’m not close to the best shape I can be in,” Hurt said. “I’m used to playing at this weight but they want me to get smaller. If I listen to [the coaches] and lose a little bit of weight I think my conditioning will go up and my game will expand. I feel like I haven’t reached my potential yet.”
Those are scary words coming from someone who already is one of the top rebounders around.
Hurt, a redshirt-freshman, is third in the Atlantic Sun Conference with an average of 8.1 rebounds per game. The 6-foot-11 center from Murfreesboro also averages 11.7 points. Only East Tennessee State’s Lester Wilson (13.7 points per game) and Chattanooga’s Gee McGhee (11.9) average more points among freshmen playing for Division I programs in the state.
Lipscomb coach Scott Sanderson says those numbers can go up if Hurt’s weight drops. The player’s current goal is to get to about 280 pounds.
“I think the things he can’t do that I want him to do are because of a lack of conditioning,” Sanderson said. “We’ve discussed this a lot with him. I think a lot of things he is not capable of doing for us offensively and defensively are just because he is so big. He needs to continue to get in better shape. I told him the better shape you get in the better results you’ll have for our basketball team. He understands that.
“When you’re a big guy like him sometimes getting in shape takes some time.”
There was a time when Hurt raced up and down the floor as a guard. Then he entered the fourth grade and had a growth spurt.
“That’s when I knew I was going to be a post,” he said.
By the time he was a freshman at Siegel High, he was 6-foot-4.
Those early days in the backcourt helped him mold a mid-range jumper and develop into an accurate passer. In fact, Sanderson already sees Hurt ahead of schedule in those areas when compared to former Lipscomb All-American Adnan Hodzic, who played center for the Bisons from 2007-11. Hodzic left as the school’s NCAA leader in points and rebounds.
Statistically, Hurt is having a better freshman season than Hodzic , averaging more points and rebounds. He also has made 17 starts — one more than Hodzic did as a freshman — with four regular-season games remaining for the Bisons (10-15, 5-9).
“The key question between the two of them is will he ever develop Adnan’s work ethic?” Sanderson said. “Adnan’s work ethic was the best I’ve coached in 29 years. He was a special kid when it came to working. If his work ethic will come close to Adnan’s then yes he can be [as good as Hodzic]. He can do stuff right now that Adnan couldn’t do as a freshman. He has a great feel of how to play.”
Hurt has an edge over Hodzic in his first college season because this isn’t his first year in college.
Hurt sat out last season with a torn MCL in his left knee, an injury he sustained during a basketball mission trip to the Dominican Republic in August 2011. He said the time off allowed him to see the sport from a different perspective and made for an easier adjustment to college basketball when he finally stepped onto the court.
After a forgetful two-point, three-rebound performance in his debut against Belmont, Hurt has thrown his weight around — in a good way. Against Southeastern Conference foes Ole Miss and Kentucky he averaged 13 points and nine rebounds, including a double-double against the defending national champ. In the team’s last non-conference tune-up in December against Memphis, he recorded his third straight double-double with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
Since then, he has started every game. He ranks second in the A-Sun with eight double-doubles. He has also earned the league’s newcomer of the week award four times. His latest honor came on Tuesday after he averaged 16 points and 7.5 rebounds and made 13 of 19 shots last week.
“He has had a very good year. For a lot of freshman to do what he has done that would be awesome,” Sanderson said. “But I see him every single day and he has a lot of room for improvement. It is a matter of being able to sustain the energy and level I want him to play at.
“I think he can do a whole lot more. He has a chance to be a special player. That is up to him.”