Award-winning Sports Editor for the Owatonna People's Press, Weisbrod has worked in daily newspapers his entire career. He writes a regular column called Beyond the Box that delves into local, regional and national sports storylines.

Matthew Hurt

Rochester John Marshall's Matthew Hurt, seen here grabbing a rebound against Owatonna as an eighth-grader last season, has already received two scholarship offers and could someday follow his brother, Michael, to the Gophers.(Jon Weisbrod/People's Press)

Wednesday was National Signing Day, and as excited as I am about Minnesota’s written commitment of the Rochester John Marshall swingman Michael Hurt, I’m even more enthusiastic about the possibility of the Gophers inking his brother in a couple years.

Well, it’s actually more like four years.

Michael’s little brother, Matthew, is just a freshman, but started every game for the Rockets last season and averaged 15 points and six rebounds. That’s right, on a team that won more than 20 games in 2014-15; its second-leading scorer was a junior high kid.

And that’s exactly what he is, a kid.

I have never met the young man, but from all accounts, he has a good head on his broad shoulders. His youth — which is unmistakable through his boyish headshot — is somewhat of a touchy subject. It raises the big question of: “How young is too young to start recruiting a high school basketball player?”

In Matthew’s case, I think now is appropriate.

College scouts can work off more than just conjecture. He’s already proven that he can compete at a high level in southern Minnesota’s largest basketball conference and, like all high-level national recruits, spends his offseason playing on the AAU circuit against players three and four years older than him.

His game simply doesn’t reflect that of a 14-year-old. Just Google his name and click on some of the videos that are available and you’ll see what I’m talking about. In one instance, he dunks over a Winona defender on a breakaway, hangs on the rim after being fouled and calmly knocks down the free throw with perfect form.

Several big time colleges have already expressed interest in the young man. Before he left to coach the Chicago Bulls, former Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg went as far as to extend a full athletic scholarship. The University of Iowa has also offered him and Minnesota and Northwestern are said to be close to doing so as well.

There is always the possibility that Hurt gets lost in the mix and never fully reaches his potential. The hype train can sometimes move so fast it’s impossible to keep up. It happens; I’ve seen it myself.

During my first year out of college, I was working at a daily newspaper just north of Eau Claire, Wisconsin in a town called Chippewa Falls (yes, the home of Leinenkugel’s beer). It was around this time of year when I went to check-in on one of our area high schools about 15 miles east in a town called Stanley.

I got to practice early and saw a giant 6-foot-11 young man sweeping the floor with one of those over-sized brooms that catch dust and debris. I asked the coach why a senior was being asked to do such a task while his teammates casually warmed up before practice.

“That’s not a senior,” the coach said. “That’s a freshman.”

The young man’s name was Evan Anderson.

Needless to say, I tracked his career over the next four years and watched in full detail the rise and fall of an over-hyped recruit.

After playing for tiny Stanley-Boyd High School for one season, Anderson transferred to Eau Claire North to face better competition in a larger conference. Entering his sophomore year, he was ranked as a five star recruit by every online database and had offers from Wisconsin, Kansas, Kentucky, Marquette and Boston College. One web site had him ranked as the No. 3 recruit in the entire nation and NBA Draft Express had already evaluated him as a potential future first-round draft pick.

Anderson had an OK first season with Eau Claire North, but struggled through some injuries and eventually dropped to a four star prospect by his junior season and out of the top 10.

And then he slipped to No. 25.

And then to No. 75.

And then completely out of the top 100.

Anderson committed to the Badgers during his sophomore season and went on to suit up for Wisconsin for three seasons. Unless you’re the most hardcore of hardcore Bucky fans, you probably don’t remember Evan Anderson’s college career. That’s because he appeared in just 36 games and averaged 0.6 points and 0.3 rebounds per contest before forgoing his senior season of edibility. Anderson is a great kid and graduated from a top-notch university in 2014, but never came close to living up to his potential on the hardwood.

So why is Matthew Hurt different?

To be honest, there is no way to definitively say he won’t follow Anderson’s path, but from what I’ve seen, his game is light years ahead of where Anderson’s was at this point his career.

Hurt isn’t confined to the post like Anderson was and possesses a completely different skill-set. He has a great stroke from pretty much anywhere on the floor and is a willing defender and rebounder. Though Anderson was taller and a tad more filled out by his freshman season, his free throw shooting was a disaster and rarely shot from outside of six feet from the hoop.

Hurt also has the invaluable recourse of his family. Not only does he have his brother to lean on, but both his parents played basketball at a high level for John Marshall in the late 1980s.

Both Michael and Matthew Hurt will be coming to a gymnasium near you as Owatonna hosts the Rockets on Jan. 30. I suggest you mark that date on your calendar and come out and support the Huskies. Cheer for OHS to beat John Marshall if you decide, but enjoy the show. It’s not every year that one of the nation’s truly elite young basketball prospects plays in your backyard.

Reach Sports Editor Jon Weisbrod at 444-2375, or follow him on Twitter.com @OPPJonW

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