Kurtz never had a good answer. He watched teammates go through it in the past. Some weren't impacted by the emotions of their final game in the O'Connell Center while others had tears streaming down their face. It was hard for him to imagine what it would be like, especially as the only senior on the 2014-15 Florida basketball team.
With his parents and two siblings at his side on Tuesday night, Kurtz led the slow walk from the locker room to center court 10 minutes before the start of the game for the team's senior day ceremony.
He was composed at the start of it. As the highlights of his career played on the O'Connell Center screen, Kurtz’s slow walk allowed him to scan the inside of the O’Connell Center, recalling all the memories of his career in Gainesville. A quick look at his parents, who had tears in their eyes, forced Kurtz to fight back his own tears. The fight didn't last long before Kurtz needed to wipe his eyes.
“I didn’t know what it was going to be like coming in,” Kurtz said. “Seeing my mom and dad crying and seeing everyone clap for you, it means a lot. I was emotional.”
Waiting for them at center court was Florida coach Billy Donovan, grinning like a proud father. On a team that has struggled to play with the energy and unselfishness Donovan wants, Kurtz was never a concern. His selfless attitude was refreshing to Donovan and the rest of the Florida players this season, just as it has been throughout his time in Gainesville. As Donovan noted on Monday, players trust and respect him because they know Kurtz never has a hidden motive. He knows he's not a NBA player, and the only motive on his mind is winning.
He’s authentic with the players in practice or while spending extra time in the film room. His desire to win above all else is a characteristic Donovan has pointed out to the rest of the team multiple times, and that’s why sending the senior out with a 66-62 win over Texas A&M was even more important.
“Jake does a lot of really good things for us,” Donovan said. “I was happy for him to close out with a win. He deserved that.”
The game didn’t have the storybook ending for Kurtz. In typical Kurtz fashion, he was in the right position to corral a loose ball and finish with a layup in transition with 2:34 left in the first half. He was poked in the eye by a Texas A&M player on the layup and struggled to get up after the basket went in.
Kurtz went to the locker room with athletic trainer Duke Werner and returned to the bench after halftime, but his eye was swollen shut.
“When he went down, I didn’t know what happened,” Florida forward and Kurtz’s close friend Alex Murphy said. “Unless he’s really hurt, he’s not staying down. Then I saw his eye. I told him it’s hard for him to get any uglier than he is, so it’s alright.”
He played just 10 minutes because of the swelling around his eye, but Kurtz was still on the Florida (15-15, 8-9 SEC) bench during the second half, cheering on his teammates. He was one of the loudest encouragers when the Gators had their free throw shooting issues late in the game, and Kurtz was always the first one to hop off the bench and high five a player coming off the floor.
The Gators escaped with a win on Tuesday, the perfect ending for Kurtz. Even with only 10 minutes on the floor, it was never about that for him. He just wanted to win.
“It means a lot,” Kurtz said. “We haven’t had the greatest year, especially at home. To be able to go out on top in my last game here, that means a lot to me. I really just wanted to be a part of this program in any way. Things just happen when you do the right thing and do things the right way.”