RICHMOND, Va. – Courtney Hurt had been so good at basketball her whole life, she really had no idea what playing at the Division I level would be like. Her freshman year can euphemistically be called an education.
“When I first got here, to be honest, I didn’t think college basketball was going to be that hard, that much different than high school,” the VCU senior forward said. “My senior year [I averaged] 28 and 12. I thought I could just come in and perform. But I had to take a step back and coach pushed me really hard. It was the card I was dealt, and she got her point across after about 100 suicides.”
Thursday, Hurt, long since removed from the country club work ethic of her freshman year, became VCU’s career scoring leader with a free throw at the 10:03 mark of the second half of the Rams’ 47-41 loss to Drexel at the Verizon Wireless Arena. Hurt, who has 1,755 career points, broke Kelly Hoover’s 23-year old record of 1,750.
Since averaging 4.4 points as a freshman, Hurt, a 6-foot-1 power forward from Conyers, Ga. has transformed into a dominant scoring and rebounding force. She set school single-season records for points (23.2), rebounds (12.4) and double-doubles in 2010-11 and could threaten those marks again this year.
Hurt’s progression from frustrating project to all-time great has been particularly satisfying for VCU Coach Beth Cunningham, who ran Hurt through the ringer during that trying 2008-09 season.
“If you would’ve asked me her freshman year if Courtney would be the all-time leading scorer here… we knew that there was a lot of work and progress,” Cunningham, in her ninth season, said. “It’s a tremendous accomplishment, but more than anything it’s just how hard she’s worked and how much better she’s gotten.
“I’m proud to have coached her. I’m proud that she’ll have her name up on that record.”
Cunningham made it clear early in Hurt’s career that rebounding would be her ticket to playing time, so Hurt turned herself into the best rebounder VCU has ever seen. Coincidentally, it’s only a matter of time before that record belongs to Hurt as well. She grabbed 15 more boards Thursday and is 84 short of passing Quanitra Hollingsworth (1,114) on the Rams’ career list.
Rebounding made Hurt a starter midway through her sophomore year. Sweat equity made her a dominant scorer by the time she was a junior. Over the years she’s added a variety of post moves, midrange consistency and a reliable 3-point shot.
“I think one of the things was learning what hard work was and just how she was going to get better,” Cunningham said. “From there, she’s just put in time. Every year she’s come back and she’s gotten better and it’s been a lot of work in the offseason and individual workouts.”
It’s unfortunate that Hurt passed Hoover, who was in attendance Thursday, during a game in which the Rams lost and in which she only managed 9 points. In fact, it was VCU’s third straight defeat. But one three game losing streak shouldn’t, and can’t, overshadow a career’s-worth of brilliance. Courtney Hurt hasn’t just been the best player VCU has seen, she’s been one of the best players in the country, hands down, the last two seasons. She followed two WNBA players in Hollingsworth and Krystal Vaughn into the VCU lineup and has managed to outshine them both.
It was hard to tell Hurt that Thursday. She was visibly upset by the team’s recent struggles. When initially asked about breaking the record, she could initially only offer a shred of gallows humor.
“It’s cool, I guess,” she said through a dejected grin. “I mean…record!”
While Hurt admits she’s been aware of the record in recent weeks, it was never a source of motivation. Chasing VCU’s first Colonial Athletic Association Championship has been paramount.
“Records are great, but who really cares? People care about championships,” Hurt said last week.
Ironically, it’s that attitude, that unrelenting quest for a championship got her to Thursday’s career-defining moment and will allow her to score what will likely end up being 2,000-plus points. Well, that attitude, and about 100 suicides.