Tigers' tough guy
By Dan Wolken, Memphis Commercial Appeal
October 15, 2006
Jeremy Hunt emerged from the concourse of FedExForum on Friday night, and on his walk from the top of the lower bowl to the floor, the University of Memphis senior guard was afraid he might injure himself. "My jaw was hurting," Hunt said, "because I was smiling so much."
Hunt's season of redemption began at Memphis Madness on Friday when the estimated crowd of 10,000 gave him arguably the loudest ovation of any Tigers player. There was no guarantee that would happen, even in Hunt's own mind.
Last October, Hunt was "permanently dismissed" from the basketball program after two off-court incidents in a nine-month span. In August, however, the university reinstated Hunt, and even Hunt said he wasn't sure what kind of reception he'd get from the Tigers' fan base.
As it turns out, the reception couldn't have been kinder.
"After all that I went through, they still stuck behind me 100 percent," Hunt said. "It meant a lot to me. I couldn't do nothing but smile."
It has been a long road back for Hunt, a road, he said, that none of his teammates should want to go down.
In 2004, Hunt was charged with misdemeanor assault after an incident with his ex-girlfriend, former Lady Tiger basketball player Tamika Rogers. That charge is on track to be dismissed next year if he meets the requirements of a pretrial diversion program.
Nine months after that incident, Hunt was involved in a physical altercation on Beale Street and dismissed from the program last Oct. 4.
But Hunt, who averaged 9.5 points per game during his first three years at Memphis, stayed close to the team, graduated, showed contrition and maturity, and made his case for reinstatement this past summer.
Though Memphis has plenty of talent, especially at the guard positions, Tigers coach John Calipari said having a player with Hunt's toughness and experience and willingness to play any role will be important on a team relying heavily on freshmen and sophomores.
"What I'm happy about is, a kid has a chance to play and prove himself, to redeem himself," Calipari said. "Our president and athletic director felt he should have that opportunity, which I feel good about.
"He's been great. He knows. He's humbled. He talks to the guys and is trying to show leadership."
Hunt, a 23-year old playing a team of mostly 19- and 20-year olds, said part of his role is offering guidance.
"I learned from my mistakes, and if I see one of my teammates looking like they're about to do something, I'm going to step in and be like, 'No, you don't want to do that because you don't want to go down the same road.' We haven't had that problem, but I'm just here to tell them. They can use me as an example."
Hunt could also be an important contributor on the court. Though there's a logjam at shooting guard with Chris Douglas-Roberts, Antonio Anderson and talented newcomers like Tre'Von Willis and Doneal Mack, Calipari said a player with Hunt's "senior toughness" would have come in handy last year -- especially in the Tigers' season-ending loss to UCLA in the Elite Eight.
"We didn't have a guy that could just say, that's it, I've had enough," Calipari said. "The young kids weren't ready to do that, Rodney (Carney) isn't that kind of player, Darius (Washington) had a guy that was guarding him pretty darn good and he couldn't do it. Joey (Dorsey), he just isn't skilled to do that. We needed just a tough guy."
A tough guy who again has reason to smile.
-- Dan Wolken: 901-529-2365