Marlon Hunter has committed to play college basketball at Western Kentucky. Some may say “Big deal.” Some may say “wrong Kentucky.” Actually, if you know Hunter, 1) it is a big deal and 2) it is the right Kentucky.
It wasn’t long ago when playing college basketball did not even appear to be an option for the 6' 2” combo guard. Hunter, a senior at Houston High School, was a kid who lost his way in Panama City, Florida, six years ago.
His father was locked up. Hunter was developing into a good player on the court, but a not so good person off of it. “I would call his house looking for him and he would be out,” recalls Carlos Lambert, Hunter’s uncle. “And it was past 12 o’clock at night.”
Lambert lives in Memphis, but he took an interest in Hunter because he was his brother’s son. He spoke with him often over the phone, sent him basketball shoes. They talked about plenty of things, mainly basketball. He made Hunter feel wanted.
As a seventh-grader, Hunter joined an AAU team in Panama City. As luck would have it, one of the tournaments his team was to participate in, the AAU Nationals, was being hosted by Wooddale High School in Memphis. It gave Lambert the opportunity to not only spend time with Hunter, but to critique his game.
Lambert was impressed with his nephew’s skills but concerned about the position he played. Hunter, 5' 9” at the time, was his team’s center. So Lambert talked with his nephew about developing combo guard skills.
But when Hunter went back home to Panama City he got in trouble and had to do community time after being involved in a fight. Lambert knew it was time to get him to Memphis. “They had to agree to my terms,” Lambert says of Hunter’s parents. “We were going to have to do things my way.”
“I knew he was about what was best for me,” Hunter says of his uncle, but the transformation wasn’t easy. Looking back on it, Hunter admits his uncle’s talks alone were not getting it done. “It was the paddle,” says Hunter. “He put the paddle on me. That got my attention.” Lambert demanded discipline in the house first and foremost, which carried over to the hardwood.
“We spent hours working on getting him to lay the ball up with his left hand,” says Lambert. “He started crying and telling me he couldn’t do it.” But Hunter continued to put in the work, working on his ball-handling skills and his outside shot.
“It was hard,” says Hunter. “It was really tough. But I could see that my left hand was getting stronger.” His overall game was too. His biggest problem, basketball-wise, was that he continued to grow, a problem most young players would love to have. But Lambert just wasn’t sure how much more growing Hunter had left to do and didn’t think he could make it to the next level with the skills of a center but the height of a guard.
With a little luck and some convincing by Lambert, Hunter was able to play combo guard at Oakhaven Middle School, despite being the tallest person on team. Then the team’s starting point guard got injured, forcing the coach to play Hunter at guard even more.
After middle school, Hunter took his combo guard skills to Melrose and played his first two high school seasons there. Hunter decided to leave after coach Jermaine Johnson was fired as the team’s coach. Houston’s coach William Buford was more than happy to accept him. Hunter averaged 22 points, 3.6 steals, and 6.7 rebounds last year as a junior with the Mustangs.
He puts in a lot of time,” says Buford. “He’s the last leave. He comes at 5:30 a.m. for workouts.”
“I workout, take a shower, and then head to class,” says Hunter.
“Then he comes back to lift weights,” adds Buford.
They are both hoping the added muscle from the weight-lifting will pay off for Hunter, who has gone from 188 lbs. to 205 lbs. in two months. “It should help him play against bigger and stronger players, especially defensively.” says Buford. “Taller and bigger players won’t be able to just bump him off screens.”
If you asked Hunter what makes him one the best prep players in the area, he will not offer his size as an answer. “I’m an energy guy” says Hunter. “Plus I can play without the ball.”
But with the ball in his hands is how his coach prefers it. “Our offense runs through (Hunter),” says Buford. “He’s a leader and he’s not a selfish player. He knows to get the ball to the guy who has it going.”
The guy who had it going recently in Houston’s exhibition game against Hamilton, was Hunter. He scored 50 points by using an array of moves not found in most players’ repertoire. He realizes his days of playing in the post before making the move to guard really helped in diversifying his game. “It’s was kind of weird coming from center to guard,” he says, “but I can still use my big man moves along with my guard skills.”
For all of his improvements on the court, Hunter’s most important transformation came in the classroom. “He was making D’s and F’s before I got him to A’s and B’s now,” says Lambert. Because of Hunter’s dedication to his academic work, he will be a full qualifier at Western Kentucky after scoring 21 on the ACT.
Scholarship offers came in from Arkansas, UT Martin, and ETSU. Hunter says Memphis was never really on his radar. But there were several factors that made Western Kentucky the right school for him. “When I (visited the campus) it had a good atmosphere. I liked Coach (Ray) Harper. I liked his coaching style.”
But more importantly, as with his uncle Lambert, Western Kentucky made Hunter feel like no other school did — wanted.
You can follow Jamie Griffin on twitter @flyerpreps.