Dario Hunt is the least of head coach David Carter’s worries right now.
“We just need Dario to maintain what he’s doing,” said Carter, whose Nevada Wolf Pack men’s basketball team will head to Washington, D.C. to take on George Washington University on Monday and Boston University on Tuesday. “What he’s doing right now is a positive.”
All Hunt is doing right now is leading the Wolf Pack (1-2) in scoring (15.3 points a game) and rebounding (7.7). The last guy to do that (Luke Babbitt at 21.9 points, 8.9 rebounds last season) is now playing in the NBA with the Portland Trail Blazers.
“I’m just out there trying to make plays for my teammates,” the soft-spoken 6-foot-8 junior said.
Hunt has led the Wolf Pack in scoring and rebounding in each of the first three games this season, a victory over Montana at home and losses on the road in Los Angeles to Pacific and Pepperdine.
The rebounding was expected. Hunt, after all, was second on the team last year with 7.0 boards a game. The scoring, though, is a little out of character for a guy who averaged 5.1 points a game over his first two seasons.
“He’s just getting more comfortable,” Carter said.
And more shots.
A year ago Hunt was the Pack’s fifth option on offense behind starters Babbitt, Armon Johnson, Joey Shaw and Brandon Fields, averaging a mere five shots a game. This year he leads the Pack in shot attempts with 38 (12.7 a game).
“Last year we had a new system and he really never did find his niche,” said Carter, looking back on his rookie year as head coach. “He never really felt comfortable in the offense.”
The 21-year-old Hunt is simply maturing as a basketball player.
“I definitely feel more confident and that comes from having two years of experience under my belt,” he said.
Hunt’s name atop the Pack’s scoring statistics, though, is a bit strange. He never led the Wolf Pack in scoring in any game over his first two seasons (68 games, 60 starts). This is the first time in his career, in fact, that he’s scored in double digits for three consecutive games.
“I’m just finding my spot on the floor and my teammates are finding me,” Hunt said.
Hunt grabbing the starring role on offense, Carter said, is more by necessity right now than by design. The Pack’s true leading man on offense, Carter added, has yet to step into the spotlight.
“What Dario is doing is great,” Carter said. “And we need him to keep doing what he’s doing. But we expect guys to catch up to Dario.”
In the perfect Pack world, Hunt will return to his role as the fourth or fifth option on offense. This Wolf Pack team, after all, has plenty of scorers with point guard Deonte Burton, forward Malik Story, guard Jerry Evans, reserves Jordan Burris, Jordan Finn, Illiwa Baldwin, Derrell Conner and Kevin Panzer. And Olek Czyz, a versatile, athletic 6-7 forward who is not shy about shooting the basketball, will join the team next month.
Hunt’s greatest strength will always be his ability to rebound and change and swat away opponent’s shots in the lane. It’s the reason why he was named to the All-Western Athletic Conference Defensive Team last year.
Hunt, though, is simply doing what he’s always done. He’s filling a need for his teammates. And the need right now just happens to be as the Pack’s safety valve on offense while the rest of his young and inexperienced teammates search for a reliable level of consistency.
“Our offense is not where it should be yet,” Carter said. “But we’re getting better with each game.”
Hunt, who was always a talented finisher around the basket, has converted 50% (19-of-38) of his shots this year. That’s down slightly from 53% over his first two seasons. Carter, though, hinted that Hunt’s shooting percentage should increase as the year progresses.
“He’s sometimes settling for jump shots because guys are sagging off him,“ Carter said. “We’ve talked to him about going to the basket more.”
Hunt has had a peculiar season so far. His minutes are up (from 27 last year to 32 this year) and his scoring is up (from 6.5 last year to 15.3). But his rebounding has seen only a slight increase (from 7.0 to 7.7) and his shot blocking (1.9 to 1.0) and steals (0.6 to 0.0) have decreased.
Also decreasing are the number of fouls he’s been called for (3.5 a game last year down to 1.3 a game this year). Hunt and Carter, though, insist that Hunt isn’t cutting down on his aggressiveness on the defensive end to avoid foul trouble.
“I’m still out there trying to be aggressive,” Hunt promised.
Hunt avoiding foul trouble is just another sign of his maturity as a basketball player, Carter said.
“A lot of his fouls in the past were the result of being out of position,” Carter said. “Dario is learning more and more where he should be on the court, how to defend players better. He’s able now to pick his spots when to be aggressive.”
Hunt, who typically found himself on the bench with two or three fouls in the first half of games a year ago, picked up just one foul in the two games combined against Pacific and Pepperdine.
“It’s important for me to be on the floor as much as possible for my teammates,” Hunt said.
Hunt likes what he’s seen from his new teammates this year, despite the two losses in three games. Nine players have already made their Wolf Pack debut this year with the 10th (Czyz) waiting in the wings.
“We’ve had some good stretches and some bad stretches,” Hunt said. “But we’re getting better. We’re getting good experience. We’re coming together as a team.”