His story, written about multiple times throughout the years, seems improbable. Kurtz came to Florida as a student only and sat in the second story of the Florida basketball facility to just watch practice. He wanted to be involved in the program, and that opportunity presented itself when a manager spot opened up.
After that, the Florida coaches threw him into practice one day, Kurtz held his own and the rest is history. He'll be honored as a part of senior day before the Gators host Texas A&M on Tuesday at 9 p.m. (TV: ESPNU).
“You can look at a lot of things that Jake Kurtz can’t do,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “He doesn’t shoot threes, he’s a non-scorer and he’s always undersized defensively and has a hard time finishing over length. He’s 6-4 and plays power forward, but you wouldn’t ever define him by any of those characteristics. You would define him as a guy who gives unbelievable effort, he’s physical and tough.
“He has been a great example for a lot of guys on our team that it’s not about your talent level. It’s about your competitiveness. He has a high level of it.”
Ninth on the team in points, Kurtz gets on to the floor because of his knowledge. Donovan trusts him to know what position to be in and when, and that started a long time ago. It helps out in practice, too.
Donovan referred to it as one of the most unbelievable moments he has ever had with a player in practice, but he’ll routinely throw Kurtz on the scout team to give the Gators a good look at what they’ll be facing. Despite having little time to prepare for what the other team runs, Kurtz can jump onto the scout team and play any position on the floor.
“Whatever you need him to do, he does,” Donovan said. You’re never worried about “what kind of angle is this guy coming from?” He is totally selfless.”
That’s why the Gators gave him a special project in the offseason. Kurtz was paired up with Chris Walker in the weight room during the morning lifts. The group met at 7 a.m. because of Walker’s class schedule, and Kurtz was able to work with him. They room together for road games this year, and Kurtz has even given up his own time to watch film with Walker.
“We have a lot of guys on our team that are liked and like each other,” Donovan said. “He may be the most respected guy in our locker room. That speaks volumes.”
Kurtz added on his relationship with Walker, “I’m just trying to instill that it’s a process of what goes into everything. You don’t just wake up and have everything figured out. You have to put a lot of work in.”
Donovan and players all rave about Kurtz’s unselfishness off the court, but you can even see it when they’re on the court together. The senior has become the master at taking charges. He admitted that most people think it hurts when he slides in front of an out-of-control dribbler but getting the ball back for his team is the key.
“It only stings for a couple seconds,” Kurtz said with a grin. “Once you get up, you’ll be fine. It’s something that really helps our defense. It’s being in the right position and seeing what’s going on.”
That level of work is how Kurtz got to this point. He’ll join fellow walk-on Lexx Edwards as the only two Florida players honored before Tuesday’s senior night since Jon Horford passed on being honored.
In four years, Kurtz went from being the walk-on that fans hoped got into blow out games to averaging 19.8 minutes as a senior because of how much the coaches trust him.
“I never looked at it as a job or something that was taxing to me,” Kurtz said. “It was something I always wanted to do and put a lot of work into it. I’m glad I did. It was very rewarding.”