Alfonzo Hubbard hears head coach Dick Hunsaker preach effort in practice. He hears him bark out when Hubbard makes a mistake or he’s not where he should be. After a game, Hunsaker will follow up with him, tell him what he did wrong and what to keep doing.
The constant in-your-face teaching and expectations are the staple of Hunsaker’s coaching style. It’s also a foreign concept to Hubbard, who is playing for the third school and seventh head coach in his career.
“It’s kind of hard, because you have seven different voices telling you what to do,” Hubbard said. “You remember what coach did last year, then you try to learn something else the next year.”
Hunsaker recognized Hubbard needed consistent direction as much as he needed to give consistent effort. His carousel of coaches robbed him of any long-term accountability, something Hunsaker has demanded since day one.
“A very serious issue is he’s kind of an Alex Smith (San Fracisco 49rs) of UVU, in that I’m the seventh head coach in seven years of basketball,” Hunsaker said. “Now how’s a young man supposed to really know and trust an authoritative voice and leader [after that]?”
It hasn’t taken long for that trust to settle in. It also didn’t take long for Hubbard to understand he needed to earn that trust. Hunsaker is well-known for getting on and even benching players who fail to perform, and that philosophy has taken precedence over Hubbard’s natural talent.
“I can see that he wants me to do well,” Hubbard said. “I haven’t had a coach like that, that pushes me like him. He’ll say stuff about most things I do all day, every day. Most coaches I had would tell me but just shrug it off. They wouldn’t force me to do it. He keeps pushing me.”
Hunsaker’s demand comes from knowing what Hubbard can supply. The 6-4 junior led Salt Lake Community College last year with 17.9 points per game on 60 percent shooting to go along with seven rebounds and 1.2 steals per contest.
This season Hubbard has led the team in scoring three times and rebounding twice despite coming off the bench in all but two games. Hunsaker said his talent has gotten him to this point.
His effort, he said, will get him further.
“Alfonzo’s got a lot of individual talent, skill and has a feel for how to play,” Hunsaker said. “He’s just never been held accountable to certain standards and levels of intensity and effort on the court.”
It’s just one of many adjustments Hubbard has made since coming to Utah Valley. A career post player, he is now learning the wing positions. Instead of playing close to the rim, Hubbard is being asked to pass, move without the ball, and be a consistent threat from the outside.
Even that, Hunsaker says, isn’t the most difficult transition Hubbard has had to make.
“The biggest adjustment for Alfonzo is the world doesn’t revolve around him on the court,” Hunsaker said. “He’s not the center attraction. He’s a very important part of the team and the unit.”
The team, however, has helped make all the changes easier for Hubbard to absorb. He said the team was quick to offer advice and accept him as one of their own, while
Hunsaker lauds him for meshing with his teammates on and off the court.
“I’m getting way more comfortable,” Hubbard said “I know I’m going to be here for [at least] another year, so I’m just trying to stay comfortable and make this my place.”
It showed in the Wolverines’ 77-72 victory over Seattle last week. Hubbard nearly notched a double-double, finishing with nine points and nine rebounds in 24 minutes of play. It’s a small step in what Hunsaker hopes becomes a prominent career.
“He’s really fit in well,” Hunsaker said. “I’m really looking forward to only improvement and a more consistent and sustained effort from him.”
Matt Petersen – Sports Editor
Photos by Lance Larsen