By LARRY VAUGHT
Charles Hurt was always a battler when he played at the University of Kentucky. He was probably one of my all-time favorite players because he was so rugged on the court, but such a kind, caring, fun-loving person off the court.
He’s been battling leukemia for way too long now and finally has lost that fight. He has passed away at age 55 based on what several former UK players told me tonight.
“He is one of the best people I know,” former Shelby County athletics director Sally Zimmerman once told me.
I think anyone who knew him would agree.
He was a high school Parade All-American at Shelby County and led the Rockets to the state championship. I was at the Shelby County Athletics Hall of Fame induction ceremony a week ago and several people I talked to had their own special Charles Hurt stories. He had hoped to attend the ceremony, but was not well enough to make it.
The 6-6 Hurt played in 124 games at UK from 1979-83. He scored 786 points, grabbed 496 rebounds, gave out 104 assists and made 74 steals. He was a 59.3 percent career shooter and seldom took bad shots.
He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1987 and became a career military man. He lived in Germany, Kuwait and Korea during his tour and became an information systems chief.
When I talked to him in 2012 for a feature story, he told me at that time he had never been back to Rupp Arena for a game.
“Kentucky basketball was a big part of my life, but that was years ago. I eventually hope to go back, but that is just the way it has worked out,” Hurt told me then. “You get a family, and that becomes a priority. I remember all the guys and that’s great, but I just moved on. When I left there I left with a smile on my face and a thank you in my heart, but I’ve just never been back.
“I know some players may not come back for a particular reason, but I have no reason. I love UK. They gave me more in my four years than I ever gave them. I love the University of Kentucky. Always have, always will.”
He felt the same about Shelby County and when Zimmerman approached him about being a high school assistant coach in 2012, he finally accepted with one condition — he would not get any pay.
“I have been away, and this is my first time doing it (coaching). When somebody says pay, that is because they have extra expectations. I want to see how this works. It is something I have thought about for a long time,” Hurt told me then.
“Being in the military over 20 years, I was not able to fulfill that part of my life. I am going to be there every day, but I didn’t want to take money from the community or school. It’s just the right thing for me to do. I am a retired military guy. I have my pension. I get to play golf in the summer. I am not hurting (financially).”
That attitude is what made Charles Hurt to teammates when he was at UK and I’m sure to those he served with in the Army. Certainly those at Shelby County made it clear to me time after time how special he was.
I hope to talk to some of his former teammates about Hurt, but even if I don’t I know what he meant to them and how his passing will touch them all deeply just like it has me. He was a good man we have lost way, way too soon.