It was somewhat of an unorthodox move, when Bill and Sonja Hurlburt packed their bags for Enderlin, N.D., 13 years ago. They met each other in San Francisco and were living in Nevada, before opting for a small-town lifestyle.
It was by no means rash. Bill did thorough research considering factors such as school scores, house prices, safety and fun things to do. Bill once told the Enderlin Lions Club that its town is one of the best deals in the United States touting the library, the meat locker, hardware store, lumber yard, swimming pool and golf course.
“We joke that this is resort living on the cheap,” said Bill, who bought their house in 2006 for $15,000 — embarrassingly more affordable than his friend’s $800,000 home in Oakland.
Enderlin, the town of 900 residents located 57 miles southeast of Fargo, is getting a little more attention these days. The Hurlburt’s twin sons, Joe and Gus, are standout basketball players for Enderlin High School — so talented that Joe, who will be a junior, has already received major-college offers from Colorado and Iowa. Friday, Joe also added offers from Wisconsin and North Dakota State.
“Enderlin has been great … it’s something I grew up with and something Bill wanted for our kids,” said Sonja, who grew up in Mountain Iron, Minn., where she became a standout basketball player herself and played at the University of San Francisco. “There are limited distractions and it really has helped them focus on basketball.”
That focus started when the Hurlburt’s oldest son, Graham, discovered that basketball was his sport. Graham was 9 years old when the Hurlburts moved to Enderlin. His twin brothers were 3. They watched Graham play in AAU tournaments, score over 1,000 career points at Enderlin and become a finalist for North Dakota’s Mr. Basketball award.
“He was definitely a big influence … just watching how hard he worked,” Joe said. “In the summer, he would spend four to five hours a day shooting in the driveway. I rebounded for him a lot.”
The 6-foot-5 Graham never played college basketball, turning down chances to play at the Division III level at Concordia, St. John’s or St. Olaf. He focused on graduating from the University of Minnesota with a degree in finance and now has a job in the Twin Cities working with financial medical mergers and acquisitions.
His twin brothers, on the other hand, are focused on playing college basketball. For the second straight summer, they are playing for one of Minnesota’s elite traveling teams — D1 Minnesota, which took them to tournaments in Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Birmingham and Dallas last summer.
As a 6-foot-10, 220-pounder who can play inside and outside, Joe is attracting attention from not only Colorado and Iowa but Minnesota, Oregon, Nebraska, Indiana and Ohio State. North Dakota has already offered him a scholarship while South Dakota State has shown plenty of interest.
At 6-foot-9, 190 pounds, Gus wants to play and major in economics. He is a 4.0 student and has shown interest in schools like Princeton, Northwestern, Butler, Cal-Poly, NDSU and the University of Chicago. Focusing on academics is something he also learned from his older brother.
“I remember him looking at colleges when I was in fifth grade,” Gus said.
But perhaps their road to college basketball started nearly 40 years ago back in that other small town of Mountain Iron, located in the heart of the Mesabi Range of northern Minnesota. That’s where their mom, 6-foot tall Sonja Haugejorde, was an all-state basketball player scoring 1,461 career points.
Her older sister Cindy played college basketball at Iowa, where she held the scoring record for more than 30 years. Sonja played in a state tournament with two other sisters. Another sister was a bicyclist who competed nationally and her brother Mark played college golf at the University of Houston with teammates like Jim Nance and Fred Couples.
“Sports are a really big part of our family,” said Sonja, who when she played at San Francisco played against stars like Cheryl Miller of USC. “I think our parents always instilled in us that anything is possible with hard work.”
Sonja, a technical delivery manager at Microsoft in Fargo, and Bill, an independent software developer, have instilled that same attitude into their sons’ heads.
“They are at the gym constantly,” Enderlin head coach Calvin Kraft said of Joe and Gus. “Once we got the OK on June 1 to practice after this COVID thing hit, Joe wanted to go at midnight.”
Joe started playing varsity for Kraft as a seventh-grader. He has been a starter since eighth grade, watching his averages of 12 points and 10 rebounds climb to 21 points and 15 rebounds last year as a sophomore.
“Joe can do many things a guard can do,” Kraft said. “He fits the mold of what college basketball has become. He has all the tools and checks all the boxes.”
Gus started playing varsity as an eighth-grader, with his averages climbing from 7 points and 3 rebounds to 14 points and 8 rebounds last year.
“Gus is just a hard-nosed player,” said Kraft, who is no stranger to Division I recruiting. His older brother Travis played at South Carolina before transferring to NDSU.
While Kraft is savoring the texts he receives from coaches all across the country, Bill Hurlburt has kept busy grooming relationships with those same coaches. The 6-foot-4 Hurlburt, who played some high school basketball growing up in Pennsylvania, has also helped his boys work on their shooting forms with any resources he can find on YouTube.
His twins started playing traveling ball as fourth-graders and said they started taking it seriously as seventh-graders. They played for the North Dakota Phenom traveling team based out of Bismarck before playing for the Pentagon Schoolers based in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Then D1 Minnesota came calling. Joe and Gus played on the same team last year. They play on different teams this year.
Joe’s team includes a collection of high-end talent from Minnesota: 6-9 Elvis Nnaji of Hopkins who has offers from Minnesota and Arizona; point guard Kendall Blue of East Ridge who has offers from Marquette and Wyoming; 6-9 Malcolm Jones of Prior Lake who has offers from Northern Iowa, UND and South Dakota State; 6-9 Carter Bjerke of Wayzata who has offers from Stanford and George Washington; 6-10 Treyton Thompson of Alexandria who committed to Minnesota and 6-9 Ahjany Lee of Byron, Minn., who has committed to Cincinnati.
“It’s a real honor to be associated with that program,” Bill said. “A typical year for that program is that 7 of the 10 players will go high major.
“I learned with my older son how the AAU stuff worked and figured out what team would be best. Our boys have always been interested to match the intensity of whatever program they have been in.”
With the coronavirus pandemic, D1 Minnesota has been limited to practices. Bill has been driving Joe and Gus to Shakopee High School for those weekend practices this summer. Their first tournament will be this weekend in Des Moines, Iowa — where major college coaches will once again be evaluating Joe.
“There are some really good players out there who don’t get offers, so it’s just a blessing to get offers from schools like Colorado and Iowa,” said Joe, who hopes to pick a school before his senior season begins in 2021. “I kind of dreamed of this when I was kid, now that dream has become a reality.”
So just as the venture for Bill and Sonja Hurlburt to move to Enderlin has turned out well, so too has the amount of time and money they have invested into their boys’ basketball careers.
“The gamble doesn’t always pay off for the scholarship … there can be a loft of expense without much reward,” Bill said. “But this looks like it is going to all work out.”