U of M's Hunt returns with same ol' hustle
By Dan Wolken
November 28, 2006
This last chance, this unlikely final shot at redemption for Jeremy Hunt was supposed to give the University of Memphis a little more of everything this season.
Maybe the toughness they lacked in the Elite Eight against UCLA. Perhaps another body to eat up minutes. A senior on a team full of freshmen and sophomores.
But something happened over three games last week in Hawaii, something as unexpected as Hunt's mere presence on the team:
"Jeremy Hunt," coach John Calipari said, "may be our best player right now."
When the No. 14-ranked Tigers (3-1) resume their season Wednesday at FedExForum against Arkansas State, Hunt likely will not be in the starting lineup.
He probably won't lead Memphis in minutes or points, either.
But Hunt, who has always been the Tigers' uber-spark plug, has become even more so far this season. Not only is he making the same hustle plays and providing the same intangibles that made him one of Calipari's favorite players his first three years, he's been as productive offensively as anybody on the team.
"Hunt is a gamer," sophomore guard Chris Douglas-Roberts said. "That's what we say. We know going into every game he's going to take charges, do all the extra stuff, and that's contagious. That makes us do it. And he's got the total offensive game too."
This, of course, is exactly what Hunt said he was going to do in the preseason, to make the most of this opportunity he wasn't ever sure he'd get.
Until August, remember, Hunt was still "permanently dismissed" from the program for two off-court incidents in a nine-month span -- a physical altercation on Beale Street before last season and a misdemeanor assault charge following an incident with ex-girlfriend Tamika Rogers (the charge is on course to be dismissed next year).
Hunt's contrition and the university's compassion gave him another chance. Now, Calipari sees "a totally different person."
Hunt, in some ways, feels like a different player.
A career 9.5 points per game scorer, he's averaging 13.5, second to Douglas-Roberts' 16.8 points. A career 31 percent 3-point shooter, he's made 11-of-21, many of them at key times in games.
And nobody is playing with more passion.
"It feels good," Hunt said. "When you're making shots, taking charges, diving on the floor, getting extra possessions for your team, it feels good. The shooting part, I work at it. I come out before practice, try to get extra shots, and sometimes after practice I'll shoot. I just try to stay consistent by shooting the same way every time, and when you're knocking them down, there's nothing you can say. I'm just happy."
And so is Calipari, not just with the points or the steals (2.8 per game) or assists (2.5), but with how Hunt is playing the most efficient basketball of his life.
"He could always shoot the ball," Calipari said. "The thing he did before, he just made so many errors because he tried to make hard plays. So he would just lead us in shots and turnovers because every pass was like a highlight tape. Now, if you watch him, he makes easy plays. So he's making shots, diving on the floor, taking charges and he's not turning it over that much. So I've been very, very pleased."
Hunt's other issue in the past was his tendency to get hurt, a product of how recklessly he throws his body around on the court. The Craigmont High product played just 20 games his first two years due to foot and knee injuries.
But even then, his value was clear: Memphis went 51-15 over three seasons with Hunt in the lineup. And given that the circumstances that have provided him one last go-round, it will be hard to take him out of it.
"I'm just happy to be here, period. It's just been real fun," Hunt said. "You'll never know if I'm hurt. The only person that will know is the trainer, and from time to time I probably won't even tell him. When I get on the court I'm looking to give everything I've got."
-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365