76ers

The Philly basketball coach that impacted Meek Mill, Marc Jackson

The Philly basketball coach that impacted Meek Mill, Marc Jackson

We all have those individuals who inspired us as kids. Maybe it was a teacher who took the extra time to make sure you knew that they cared. Maybe it was the grandmother who never said “no,” or the neighbor who always made sure you had enough to eat. Maybe it was a coach who always made you believe in yourself.

In the Philadelphia basketball community, Ed Hurtt, known mostly as “Coach Ed,” “Productions,” and “EDP,” has been that figure. For over 30 years, Hurtt has poured his heart and soul into youth basketball throughout the Tri-State area, coaching kids, hosting camps and inspiring kids to graduate high school and pursue a college education. And now, although his efforts are far from over, the Sixers have named him 76ers Jr. NBA Coach of the Year, after an overwhelming amount of public nominations.

And while it’s certainly appreciated, recognition has never been something Hurtt has needed.

“When you've been doing stuff this long and you've been doing it from the heart, you don't look for rewards,” Hurtt told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I just try to remind my participants to always be humble in life, no matter how successful you get, always be humble and don't forget where you come from.”

For Hurtt, it all started when he was about 12 years old and volunteering for the Sonny Hill Basketball League, an amateur summer basketball organization founded in 1968.

“That's all we would do in the summer,” Hurtt remembered of looking forward to The Sonny Hill League as a kid. “It was really fun because you could be around all the basketball players … and as you get older, you challenge yourself and learn from the older guys.”

But there was another reason, too.

“We had gang warfare back in those days, street territory,” Sonny Hill told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “And Eddie felt like it was a safe haven for him. … In other words, North Philadelphia, South Philadelphia, West Philadelphia, Germantown and other sections. … If you were in those neighborhoods, and you were involved in the Sonny Hill League, then the gangs would give you a safe pass because they had such great respect for what it is that we were doing, which was using basketball as a vehicle to interact with young people to help them become better human beings. And Eddie was a part of that.”

Eventually Hurtt would take the concepts he learned in that league, as well as his experiences as an assistant under Coach Kenny Hamilton at Benjamin Franklin High School, and start his own program.

“Our model was, ‘We're more than just basketball,’ and that’s our slogan,” Hurtt said of his Youth Working Together (YWT) program, where he currently coaches.

Thinking back to the early days, Hurtt remembers participants bringing their book bags in every Friday while he checked school work and receiving confirmation that the kids fulfilled duties at home. He even required them to have a library card.

Now, he’s on his participants as early as 10th grade to take the SAT.

“I tell them my goal is to get you into college, and it's up to you to move forward,” Hurtt said. “I'm really up front with them. Everyone is not going to play professional basketball. There's just not enough jobs for it, but they can't take knowledge from you, so I worked my tail off to make sure that we can get them into college.”

“He knew playing ball was a good thing, but it’s an avenue you can use,” former Sixer Marc Jackson, who first met Hurtt around 30 years ago through youth programs, said. “Without the mixture of academics, you would never get the opportunity you seek … and the way he related to you would make you pay close attention to him.”

“He was always making sure I was on top of school, making sure GPA and SAT scores matched,” Mark Tyndale, a Philly native and player development coach for the Toronto Raptors, told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “He was always at all my high school and college games. … He was just like a proud father to see my success and see me do well. He was the first one to congratulate me when I got the job with the Raptors.”

Tyndale came up through Hurtt’s program at the same time as Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry and rapper Meek Mill.

“I will never forget when Meek Mill’s first mixtape came out,” Tyndale remembers. “Me, Ed and Meek Mill’s mom were walking in the record store (Phenomenal Records) at the same time to support his upcoming music. … Even though he’s a basketball guy, he is very supportive of any kind of craft, always about education and just seeing guys make it out the neighborhood and do well for themselves.”

“We come from a rough neighborhood, so just to see a guy like Coach Ed in the community, it really keeps the balance in the neighborhood and I think we need more people like him in the world.”

One of Jackson’s greatest memories of Hurtt goes back to his days in the Sonny Hill College League. He was hyped after one of his big games, which he said usually coincided after watching NBA draft picks.

“I had a really good game, after watching the NBA draft," Jackson said, "and I remember Ed being like, ‘Yeah that’s good, Marc, but that needs to be every day and every game. You can’t come in here and do that sometimes. … When he said that it kind of woke me up. It made me realize the importance of consistency. That one statement, at that time, when I think I’m dominating, that for me, helped remind me how consistency is the key. … He’s always been that guy to count on, to be honest, no matter what.”

And that goes to show one of Hurtt’s greatest strengths and gifts to the Philadelphia community.

“Taking kids that are kind of rough around the edges, like me, and mentoring them to understand that there is a bigger goal,” Jackson said.

“He has seen a lot of people come up,” Tyndale said. “There are people that came way before us and people that are going to come way after us that he is going to help get to where they are trying to go, and the future is really bright with Ed.”

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Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons reportedly had clean MRI on left knee

Sixers injury update: Ben Simmons reportedly had clean MRI on left knee

When Ben Simmons flexed his left leg after lobbing a pass for Al Horford and immediately headed off the floor Wednesday during the Sixers’ win over the Wizards, it was logical to be concerned. But, according to a report, Simmons’ knee injury is not as severe as one might have feared watching him walk toward the locker room. 

An MRI on Simmons’ knee was clean and he’s expected to be day-to-day, per Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium. It's worth noting this is not an official update from the Sixers, who Brett Brown said postgame he expected to issue an announcement soon about Simmons' status. 

The 24-year-old recovered from a nerve impingement in his lower back over the NBA’s hiatus, and he felt strong and explosive heading into the league’s restart. He’s now serving as the Sixers’ starting point forward, an adjustment Brown thinks he’s approached well.

“I do feel like Ben has been amazing,” Brown said before Wednesday’s game, “in regards to just being mature on ‘Put me wherever you think I can best help the team.’ At times maybe he hasn’t gotten a touch the way he needs to get a touch, sometimes — which was easier when he was always the primary ball carrier. And so I applaud him tremendously on being a great teammate, trying to accept a new type of ecosystem that we’re trying to use him in.”

Simmons looked for his shot often in Wednesday’s game, though with little success. He missed an open corner three-pointer in the first quarter, his first legitimate regular-season try from long distance since Dec. 7, and made 2 of 10 field goals overall in 23 minutes. 

If Simmons misses any games, Brown will have a few options for reshuffling his starting lineup. There’s a case to be made for just about every member of the current rotation, which Brown cut down to nine players on Wednesday. Al Horford could slide into the frontcourt if Brown wants to work on the Horford-Joel Embiid pairing, which has a plus-15.6 net rating in 40 minutes together at Disney World after being the Sixers’ worst regular duo pre-hiatus.

Matisse Thybulle, Furkan Korkmaz and Glenn Robinson III have all started games this year, though Robinson is dealing with an injury himself, having missed the team's first three seeding games with a left hip pointer. Perhaps Brown could go with Alec Burks if he’s looking for an extra ball handler and more time to evaluate his potential backup point guard in the playoffs.

The main takeaway here, however, is not the potential ripple effects on the Sixers' seeding game rotation. Rather, it's that a player the team will surely need to have available in order to make a deep playoff run reportedly has avoided a serious injury.

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Sixers squeak by Wizards after Ben Simmons exits early with left knee injury

Sixers squeak by Wizards after Ben Simmons exits early with left knee injury

Updated: 10:12 p.m. 

The importance of the Sixers’ 107-98 win over the Wizards on Wednesday pales in comparison to Ben Simmons’ status. 

The two-time All-Star suffered a left knee injury in the third quarter and did not return. Joel Embiid (30 points, 11 rebounds) led the way for the Sixers, who improved to 41-27 and next face the Magic on Friday night. His dunk with 19.3 seconds to go finally sealed the victory over the 24-44 Wizards. 

Here are observations on the game: 

Simmons’ early exit 

Simmons (eight points on 2 for 10 shooting, six rebounds, four assists) headed to the locker room in the middle of the third period. He flexed his left leg after throwing a pass for Al Horford and immediately headed off the floor. 

That injury clearly casts a shadow on the game for the Sixers given Simmons’ obvious, immense value as a versatile offensive piece and excellent defender. 

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported Simmons has no swelling or pain in his left knee and that “early indications … are encouraging.”

"I’m sure the club will make some announcement about Ben’s departure from the floor soon," Brett Brown said after the game. "But as far as knowing more than that, I really don’t. I’m obviously very curious to hear what that news is.”

Shams Charania of The Athletic and Stadium reported Wednesday night that an MRI on Simmons' knee came back clean and he's expected to be day-to-day. 

Inconsistent (but better) defense 

As far as Brown is concerned, the explanation for most of the Sixers’ defensive issues in their first two seeding games is simple. 

“When we choose to play defense on a more repetitive, regular basis — not (just) the third period and don’t pay attention to the first half, as an example — when we get that disposition, that physicality, I think things are going to connect,” he said before the game.

The collective effort and focus was solid in the first quarter against the Wizards but lapsed at times afterwards. Shake Milton was beaten off the dribble on several occasions in the first half. Tobias Harris ceded an offensive rebound to Troy Brown Jr. early in the third quarter, and Brown laid it in to tie the game at 58 apiece during a 23-11 Wizards run to begin the third period. Overall, the Sixers are playing below their potential defensively and will pay in the playoffs if they don’t elevate their level. 

Simmons, of course, is a main reason why the team’s defensive ceiling seemed so high entering this season. 

Trimming the rotation 

Brown decided to cut his rotation from 10 players to nine against the Wizards, leaving Raul Neto out. Mike Scott (right knee soreness) and Glenn Robinson III (left hip pointer) remained sidelined. 

The Sixers’ head coach acknowledged there are still rotation-related questions he’s assessing ahead of the playoffs. 

“I think the desire to play 10 initially, I don’t regret,” he said pregame. “I’ve admitted I’m trying to learn stuff and keep the team’s spirit at a place that I think ends up important. I do think that it has been difficult to find real minutes for 10 players — it’s just so much that can go around. … Ultimately, you get to the playoffs, it’s certainly going to be nine.” 

Alec Burks was the sole backup point guard and also played on the wing in a lineup alongside Simmons, Harris, Horford and Josh Richardson. He had nine points, two assists and no turnovers in 19:34, with his playing time extended because of Simmons’ injury.

He knows what’s coming 

All of the double teams Embiid is encountering come as no surprise to the big man.

“I’ve just gotta keep on getting better because I know that every single game I’m going to get doubled,” he said Monday night, “so I’ve gotta just figure that out … and create shots for my teammates. If I’m open and I’ve got a duck-in, just go out and do it. But other than that, just try to make sure defenders attract a lot of attention, just for my teammates.”

Washington’s double teams were predictably frequent and aggressive, and Embiid again handled them reasonably well. With the exception of one first-quarter play where he turned toward the baseline on a fadeaway jumper attempt straight into Isaac Bonga, he took what the defense presented to him. 

And, when the Wizards couldn’t send an extra body, he recognized his advantage and went straight to work. 

Milton (14 points, four assists) and Richardson (15 points, three assists) helped Embiid out by hitting a couple of jumpers down the stretch. 

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