Through ups and downs, mom stood by Tigers' Hunt
By Dan Wolken
February 25, 2007
Nearly one year ago, Jeremy Hunt sat inside FedExForum during Senior Day -- what should have been his Senior Day -- and watched his then-former teammates enjoy everything he had thrown away.
Had Hunt taken a different path, made different choices at two critical junctures in his life, he too would have been playing for one of the best University of Memphis teams in history and soaking in the adulation of a fan base that loves its homegrown sons most of all.
Instead, Hunt was in street clothes, living under a "permanent" dismissal from the program and searching for a way to reclaim his tattered reputation.
"I wanted people to look at me like, 'He's actually a good guy,'" Hunt said. "I wanted to prove to everybody that I have changed. I've grown up. I've matured.
"I'm pretty sure everybody looks at me different now."
For some, Hunt's redemption could very well be about how many points he scores today against Houston or how far he carries No. 7 Memphis into the NCAA Tournament.
But for his mother, Gloria Hunt, who will be by his side during today's Senior Day ceremonies, it is about how her son figured out his life, earned a second chance and has made the most of it.
"It's going to be really emotional," she said, "for us to see him just walk out there with all of our fans and all of our support, for him to stand up and hold that picture up and to say, 'I did it. Here I am. I did it.'"
As Jeremy Hunt knows, this story did not have to have a happy ending. In 2004, he was charged with misdemeanor assault after an incident with his ex-girlfriend, former Lady Tigers basketball player Tamika Rogers. After going through a pre-trial diversion program, that charge is scheduled to be dropped next week.
Nine months after that incident, Hunt was involved in a physical altercation on Beale Street and dismissed from the program on Oct. 4, 2005.
When it happened, Gloria Hunt agreed with the decision, declining to make excuses for her son.
"I told him, 'You did this to yourself,'" she said. " 'You fix it.'"
That guidance, coach John Calipari said, probably contributed to university president Dr. Shirley Raines' decision last summer to allow Hunt back on the team after he had completed his degree.
"If she had taken another approach, I'm not sure Dr. Raines would have said, 'I'm going to give him another chance,'" Calipari said. "She looks at the mother and says, 'You know what? She's a good woman, and she understands. She's not going to cover for her son.' I've had some kids here where, (with the) mom and dad, son does no wrong. You can't help the kid when that's the case. There's no way the kid will ever change."
Though Hunt had changed, the decision to bring him back was a controversial one. Even large segments of the Tigers' fan base were against it, a fact Hunt was well aware of.
But Hunt has won over most of those fans, and not just with his play, which has been essential to the Tigers' 24-3 record. Though Memphis might not be in this position without Hunt's 30-point effort at UAB or his two 3-pointers in overtime at Gonzaga, he has been embraced for his role as the Tigers' statesman, their emotional leader and their counselor about the miserable existence they will endure if they get into off-court trouble.
"When you get another chance, what else do you really need to do than worry about what you have to worry about it?" senior Clyde Wade, who has been friends with Hunt since the fourth grade, said. "He grew up and realized, hey, it's going to end one day so I've got to go ahead and make the best of everything and that's what he did. I'm so happy for Jeremy, I don't know what to do."
Hunt has had the rare privilege of sharing this season with his mother, who has attended every game, home and away, traveling to far-flung places like Hawaii and Spokane, Wash., wearing a No. 5 jersey that identifies her to everyone she encounters.
"People I don't even know walk up to me and tell me how glad they are that Jeremy is back and how they can see him as a changed person," Gloria Hunt said. "His fans come up to me all the time and tell me how proud they are he's back, and they can see he's really changed.
"He puts his heart in it, he smiles, and you can tell he's really glad to have a second chance and he's making the best of it. It has been a blessing from God."
-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365