Jacob Kurtz had a plan built on hope and a prayer when he stepped on the University of Florida campus in fall 2010.
It came true.
The career arc for Kurtz, now the video coordinator for University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball, has been auspicious, if not ideal. The 6-foot-5 native of Oviedo, Fla., wasn't playing in games when he started his time at Florida, only watching.
From the stands, not the bench.
Kurtz turned down offers to play for NCAA Division II and II programs, along with some NAIA schools, so that he could attend Florida in hopes of becoming a walk-on player for the Gators. Only there weren't any spots available, so Kurtz watched practices in the stands every day for the first semester.
That eventually led to an opportunity to be a manager after a spot was vacated over Christmas break.
"I thought that would be another step closer to being on the team," Kurtz said Tuesday. "I could be involved with the coaching staff and help any way I could."
Over the following summer, one of the walk-ons decided to play at Rollins College, an NAIA program in Winter Park, Fla., and then-Gators coach Billy Donovan had tryouts for the open spot. Kurtz made the cut.
He ended up playing in 83 games over his career, starting seven as a senior when he became an integral part of the team's rotation. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering and had the promise of a median salary of more than $80,000 a year.
Kurtz chose to go a much different route.
"He could be making more money than all of us," said UTC coach Matt McCall, who was an assistant to Donovan before coming to Chattanooga in the spring when Will Wade left to take over at VCU. "I had my (introductory) press conference here, and when I went back to Gainesville, he was waiting for me in my office and said, "I'm in if you want me.' I said, 'Done.'
"He gets it. He gets the culture we're trying to build here, he's been a huge part of it, and the level of humility he brings every single day, those are the kind of people you want to surround yourself with."
The two developed a bond when Kurtz was playing on the Gators' scout team in practice, which McCall ran. That bond has continued at UTC — the two are always able to joke with each other.
"We have a really good relationship," Kurtz said. "He can trust me with things on the court. I can make fun of him, he can make fun of me. We can go back and forth, but we're still very close."
McCall remembered a stretch of games during the Gators' 2013-14 season — when they reached the Final Four — when Kurtz hadn't played but then contributed five key minutes in a win over Auburn, helping shut down guard Chris Denson.
"I told him that what he did that night was one of the most impressive things I'd seen in a basketball game," McCall said. "He never let it affect him that he hadn't played, and he attacks being a coach the same way. He enjoys the players. He enjoys having an impact in their lives.
"Everybody loves that guy, and that's because of the way he carries himself every day."
Kurtz chose mechanical engineering as a major because he was good at math and "liked to build things."
He chose coaching because that's what he truly wants to do with his life.
"I want to be a coach," Kurtz said. "I know it was a weird trek to get into coaching, but I love basketball and have a passion for it. I love doing this every day.
"As long as Coach McCall will have me around here, I'll be here."
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