It's been a long road for Utah Valley to the top of the WAC standings
Leading the way is Hunsaker’s son, Holton, a 6-foot senior, who besides scoring 12.1 points per game, leads the team in assists at 4.1. Ben Aird, a 6-9 senior, is a former all-stater from Bountiful High who averages 11.7 points and 7.8 rebounds, although in league play his numbers are 15.7 and 10.7.
Other starters are Zach Nelson, a 6-7 freshman from Yuba City, Calif., (10.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg), Mitch Bruneel, a 6-5 junior from Boise (10.2 ppg) and Keawe Enos, a 6-1 senior from Mesa, Ariz., (7.8 ppg), who is the team’s top 3-point shooter at 47.8 percent. Hayes Garrity, a 6-1 sophomore from Oregon, averages 10.8 points off the bench.
“This is a really unique group I have right now, absolutely a wonderful fit for Utah Valley,’’ he said. “They play hard, they play intelligently, they play together with all the core fundamentals and they believe in what we’re doing.’’
Coaching his son has turned out to be a great experience for Hunsaker, even though it was something he was wary of in the beginning.
“I never believed in coaching my kids. I never coached them in pee-wee ball or in any aspect,’’ he said. “It wasn’t an intended direction, it just kind of fell that way.’’
Out of high school, Holton had signed to play at Louisiana Tech under former Ute assistant Kerry Rupp before going on an LDS mission to Fiji. It was there that he changed his mind.
“Like most missionaries, you get a little homesick and I thought, ‘why can’t I go play for Dad,’ ’’ he said. “Just through letters, it probably softened his heart a little bit. It can be difficult and it’s a sensitive situation with other players. But it’s been a great experience because my teammates have been so good to me.’’
Holton said it helps that he’s married with a 6-month-old girl so he’s not talking hoops with his dad over the dinner table. “I can avoid him after a bad game,” he says with a laugh.
Despite its fast start in league play, it won’t be easy to win a WAC title and survive the three-day WAC tournament in Las Vegas in mid-March. But just the possibility of playing in the NCAAs for the first time ever is exciting for Utah Valley University.
“That’s definitely a goal of ours,’’ Aird said. “It’s our first year in the WAC and we have a great group of guys. It might be a cliché you hear a lot in sports, but we feel like we’re a family who work hard every day and love each other, and we feel like we can be successful together.’’
“We’re definitely off to a good start and we have a good chance if we keep playing how we’ve been playing,’’ added Bruneel.
Coach Hunsaker refuses talk about the possibilities of a league title or a berth in the NCAA tournament, even if his players do.
“All long-term goals are only achieved through the accomplishment of short-term goals,’’ he said. “Your short-term goal is the next game, the next practice and always will be.’’
When asked about the possibilities of winning the WAC or going to the NCAA tournament, Hunsaker won’t budge.
“We play the next game,’’ he says. “That’s all we ever do, that’s why we’ve enjoyed so much success here. We play the next game.’’
But obviously it would be a thrill to win the WAC title and go to the NCAAs?
“No, it’s the next game. It’s simple.’’
But you would be happy if you did get there, right coach?
“Come see me again in six weeks.’’
After waiting 12 years for a chance to get to the NCAA Tournament, Hunsaker and his Wolverines can certainly wait another six weeks.
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