He played in 124 games at Kentucky and shot a remarkable 59.3 percent from the field, the best mark ever at UK when his playing career ended in 1983.
However, even though he scored 786 points, grabbed 496 rebounds and had 104 assists, Charles Hurt has never been back to a game in Rupp Arena since leaving Kentucky.
"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 said. “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.”
Hurt, a Shelbyville native now living in Louisville, 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.
“I think most every time I was in Kentucky it was probably during the offseason,” he said. “I still follow them as much as I can. I know when I was deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, we got the feeds of some UK games, and I would have my blue on supporting the Cats. 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.”
Hurt, 51, is now retired and ready to embark on a new career as an assistant basketball coach at Shelby County under first-year coach Jeff Couch.
“They approached me, and I had thought about something like this for quite a while. The timing was never right when I was approached before, but now it is. My daughter is a senior in high school, I am back in Kentucky and it seemed like a good way to give back. Basically, it’s where I got my start, and that community was great to me,” he said.
Shelby athletic director Sally Zimmerman is thrilled to have Hurt joining the basketball staff and credits assistant Kevin Armstrong, who was on the school’s 1978 state championship team with Hurt, for starting the process.
“Coach Couch said he would be star-struck because he grew up watching Charles play,” Zimmerman said. “We had a wonderful conversation when we met, and I told him I would get back to him on how we would pay him and a few things. He said, ‘If you pay me one cent, I am not doing it. I want to give back. Call it whatever you want, but I am not going to get paid.’ How special is that? We were able to complete our staff at no additional cost, and that’s really a huge bonus.”
Hurt said he never considered taking 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,” he said. “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).”
Hurt is worried about whether he can make significant contributions to the program.
“I know it won’t be long I go in there and everything turns around. They have a terrific head coach they just hired from Eastern, and I want to learn from him,” he said. “Whatever they need me to do, whatever capacity they want me in, I am there for that. I have not forgotten the game of basketball, so hopefully I can help.
“I know it will be the kids’ parents, not the kids, who know me. I am in the community more now. I see the kids, but their parents are the ones who recognize me.”
Zimmer believes Hurt is a bit more recognizable in Shelby than he realizes.
“We had an event last year where we invited former players back, especially those from the 1978 championship team,” she said. “He ended up coming right at the last second before we were getting ready to walk on the floor. All his teammates were so excited, and I think then he realized the name he still had here in this county by that appearance.”
Hurt has never been one to seek the limelight, and that didn’t change when he started military service. He recalls being almost halfway through basic training thinking nobody was going to know him.
“The drill sergeants were on me all the time because I was so much taller than others,” he laughed and said. “Then about halfway through basic training I started getting all this nice treatment and wondered what was going on. The drill sergeants found out who I was. They had the newspapers. I didn’t want people to know I played basketball, but everywhere I went in the service some people would know.
“I am shy. I did not want the attention. I wanted the focus to be on what I had to do, not me. But it was pretty cool. I didn’t like the attention, but I understood it. At UK, I didn’t really enjoy the attention players got. At Kentucky or in the military, it’s not about one person. It is about the team. One military person does not accomplish the mission. That’s why I never wanted to be the focal point.”
Hurt says it has not been hard to adjust to life outside the military.
“The hardest part is not being around guys I was around for 20 years. You develop special relationships during that time,” he said. “Other than that, it’s good to be home every day with my family and spending time with my kids. I’ve been a grandfather for just a few months. I’ve been blessed not to have to deal with any adjustment issues.
“The military was something I always wanted to do. Basketball was one thing, but I always wanted to serve my country. I did it for 20 years. That tells you how much I enjoyed it. A lot of my family was in the military. My son is now in the military. It’s a generational thing. My daughter is even talking about the Navy.
“I think serving your country is an admirable thing to do for anyone. I am still laid back, but things in I learned in the military — leadership, discipline, team building — are assets you can use your whole life.”
Hurt sees the same motivational teaching by Kentucky coach John Calipari not only for his players, but also for UK fans.
“They are going to be young again, but coach Cal — from a distance — just does a tremendous job. I don’t know what it is exactly about him. It’s just something that motivates not only kids, but the fan base,” Hurt said. “It’s the first time I have seen in a long time where a coach motivates a fan base. He is a tremendous motivator.
“For the amount of new kids he brings in and gets them to play together, it’s unreal. Every family has problems, but they are overcoming whatever issues they have and they become successful. That speaks a lot about him as a leader. He has to be a tremendous leader, and he’s so innovative and creative.”
Hurt said he’s been stunned by the number of Kentucky fans he sees daily in Louisville.
“I always knew there were a lot of Kentucky fans here, but I never expected to see so many Kentucky fans with their blue on every day,” Hurt said. “A lot of that has to do with how he (Calipari) is with the whole state. He has taken the university program national. I like that. It’s really a smart move on his part.”
He also likes the way Calipari has embraced Joe B. Hall, his former coach at Kentucky.
“I think what he has done for coach Hall is awesome. I don’t know how much in the past was done to include coach Hall, but he is sure more visible now. He needs that and deserves that. It might add years to his life, and that’s a good thing,” Hurt said. “No one loved Kentucky more than coach Hall, and to see coach Calipari including him the way he does really makes me feel good.”