By Kyle Spencer, Sports Editor, @kyledspencer
As head coach Dick Hunsaker and his staff approach the off-season agenda, their efforts focus on developing a team that can experience the exhilarating emotion of competing in the NCAA tournament.
Joining the Western Athletic Conference has completely transformed the culture and mentality of the athletic programs at UVU. There is now one glaringly obvious goal that every Wolverine basketball team will set its sights on—qualifying to play during the most entertaining month in college sports. To reach its destination the team will need strengthen its current roster through recruiting.
“We are still in the recruiting process,” said Hunsaker. “We understand that we are making the move to the WAC and we’ll need to improve our talent level if we’re going to be able to be competitive in our new conference.
That process now includes the lure of playing in a conference that provides the opportunity to bypass the inclinations of a biased selection committee by winning its postseason tournament.
“There will always be a special place in my heart for those who played without the automatic qualifier,” Hunsaker said. “Even the last four years. We were NCAA tournament eligible, if we went undefeated. So we’ve been NCAA tournament eligible but when you have to win every game the circumstances make the percentage of that occurring very minute. There’s tremendous excitement. This is a wonderful opportunity to now be in an automatic qualifying conference. It’s a new day at Utah Valley.”
The new possibility will surely awaken interest in talented recruits that in previous years may have dismissed the notion of playing for UVU, but the coaching staff remains concentrated on the tedious process that has equated the signing of quality players in the past.
“My recruiting philosophy is that we’re trying to find the best player that we can get,” Hunsaker said. “We certainly always start within the state of Utah. There is a lot of competition for the talent within the state. There are some institutions that are well established with rich traditions. We do our best to uncover and locate players that aren’t quite polished, or for whatever reason might be overlooked. We start within the state and build out.”
Coach Hunsaker’s tenure has allowed Wolverine fans to experience the majestic athleticism on display at the highest level. Ronnie Price, who graduated from UVU in 2005, is entering his ninth season in the NBA this year. Ryan Toolson, who completed his degree at UVU in 2009, led his team in scoring while competing in Spain’s top professional basketball league. Nick Thompson, who led the team in assists last year, is hopeful he will begin his professional career this year—an aspiration that appears close to being realized after he was invited to work out for the Jazz prior to the NBA draft.
“The fundamental basics of our program demonstrate that we run a pro philosophy style of play,” Hunsaker said. “What so many young kids don’t understand is the cerebral part of the game—the thinking part—is of great value as you go up the levels and if you want to play at the professional level. The little things are the separator and we have heightened in on our players to think and understand the game and I think that’s enabled a number of the guys to find success after they left Utah Valley.”
It was announced last week that Holton Hunsaker, son of coach Hunsaker, would be honored alongside lady Wolverine and all-everything forward Sammie Jensen as GWC scholar-athletes of the year. The award is the most prestigious acknowledgement of excellence awarded by the Great West Conference, a testament of the athletic and academic achievements of both Hunsaker and Jensen, as well as their outstanding demonstration of leadership and attitude.
Coach Hunsaker’s individual basketball camp, which is always an inviting opportunity for former Wolverines—like Price and Toolson—to return to campus and assist in the development of younger players, has been concluded and the 2013-14 schedule is forthcoming.
The current priority suggests that in the coming months the roster may take a very different shape. This will be a welcome change if it helps propel the school to its first taste of the thrills of March madness. The dancing shoes have already been ordered, but it will take a WAC championship to be able to use them on the big stage.