Published February 23, 2017
By the time he got to Hardy Middle school in Jackson, Mississippi, former NBA point guard Lindsey Hunter had stopped growing.
At least, it seemed that way for a while.
Hunter remembers the coaches telling him when he arrived at Hardy that he was too small to play the sport he loved.
“I was so excited about football … man, I was magnetized to that sport,” the UB Bulls men’s assistant basketball coach says. “Especially in the South. Football was — and still is — everything in the South, you know? It was my first love.
“I started in elementary school and played all the way up till I got to middle school. I started off playing receiver … then they moved me to tailback … then, when I was graduating, I was the quarterback.”
Hunter says at the time, in 1982, middle school in Mississippi was composed of seventh, eighth and ninth grades.
“The coaches told me over and over that I was too small to play football,” he recalls. “So I decided to go out for the basketball team.”
Hunter made the team as an eighth-grader. By ninth grade the team had a new coach, who didn’t play him much in the opening games of the season.
“We were getting killed,” Hunter says.
“So, my dad, being the father he is, went to the coach and said, ‘Hey, if you’re not going to play him, we’re not going to waste gas bringing him back and forth. My son could be doing homework!’
“The coach told my dad, ‘Well, I haven’t had a chance to take a look at him,’ and my dad told the coach, ‘What? You mean we’ve been bringing him back and forth all this time and you haven’t looked at him?’”
At the next practice, Hunter beat out many of the other players and was named to the starting lineup for the next game.
“My dad didn’t even show up. My mom was there,” Hunter says, laughing. “I had 20-some points, had a great game. We lost at the buzzer.
“We got home and my mom told my dad, ‘You missed it!’
“And he said, ‘Missed what? How could he go from not playing to playing an entire game?’
“The funny thing was my dad never told me what he did, that he had talked to the coach,” Hunter says. “I didn’t find that out for a long time. But I ended up getting MVP of the team that year.”
The next year, at Murrah High School in Jackson, Hunter played on a team that went 41-1.
“To be a part of a team like that, you know, really made me fall head-over-heels for basketball,” Hunter says. “I was a fanatic after that. I loved the game.”
Hunter attended Alcorn State University for one year, then transferred to Jackson State.
“Jackson State’s coach, Andy Stoglin, and the guard coach, Alan Perry, really helped my development. They pushed me to entirely different levels.”
But Hunter says playing professional basketball was not an immediate goal.
“None of this was pro-driven, at first. I really had a drive for the game,” Hunter says. “I was a gym rat and I would stay after practice and just work. Nobody had to tell me to — this was what I wanted to do.
“My dad and I, we never really talked about being a pro. My dad would tell me ‘Just put all you have into it and worst case scenario is you will get an education and if you love the game that much, you can coach.’”
Every summer when he was in college he would get a summer job, Hunter says. “Going into my senior year, I had developed so much that my dad, he said, ‘If you really want to just play basketball, you don’t have to get a job, but you have to promise me that you’re going to work.’
“I said, ‘Dad, you don’t have to tell me to be in the gym.’”
Hunter graduated from Jackson State and was selected by Detroit with the 10th overall pick of the 1993 NBA draft. He played with the Pistons for the next seven seasons.
As a player, he won two NBA championships: in 2002 with the Los Angeles Lakers and in 2004 after returning to the Pistons. He also played for the Milwaukee Bucks, Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls. During his 17-year NBA career, Hunter recorded 7,956 points, 2,021 rebounds and 2,506 assists.
In 2012, Hunter signed with the Phoenix Suns as an assistant coach for player development. After a coaching change during the 2012-13 season, he was named interim head coach for the remainder of the season, leading Phoenix for 41 games. He became an assistant for the Golden State Warriors during the 2013-14 season.
Hunter was living in the Detroit area with his wife, Ivy, and their four children — Lindsey III, Lindsey IV, daughter Cydney and their youngest, Caleb — when Bulls head coach Nate Oats called.
“I got to know Nate back when I was playing for the Pistons and he was building a power program at Romulus High School, which is just outside of Detroit,” Hunter says. “My kids attend Southfield Christian and my sons played in the Romulus summer league and all the Romulus tournaments. We’ve known each other a long time.”
“Lindsey has seen and done so much in his career,” says Oats. “He has played on teams that won NBA championships — including with Kobe Bryant with the Lakers. The fact that Lindsey’s teams were in the playoffs for 12 of the 17 years he was in the league show that he is a winner.
“I’ve stayed in touch with him over the years and we have a great relationship. He is a great addition — he knows basketball and brings a lot to our team.”
When Oats offered him a chance to come to UB, Hunter knew he wanted to work with young players.
“At this point in my life, helping to shape young guys into better basketball players and also good men is something I like doing,” Hunter says. “This is my first opportunity to join a university coaching staff. But getting my wife’s blessing came first.
“She knew I wanted to get back into coaching, having sat out for two years. I was still always in the gym. And usually working somebody out — even at home. Buffalo was an easy trip and relatively close to home, so she agreed.”
During his NBA career, Hunter proved to be a talented and durable player who brought a passion for basketball and worked hard, no matter what position he played.
“I’ve probably filled every role on the team,” he says. “It helps me relate to all of the players on the team, even the guys who, game to game, are playing very little. You still have to work hard and be ready.”
Oats notes that Hunter knows what it takes to win championships. “Nothing is given in this game, and he delivers that message to our players by example. How hard he worked. He earned a reputation for that.
“He’s working with our guys on and off the court to help them maximize the things that will allow us to do better,” he says. “The players know he’s been there.”
Hunter adds he’s trying to get UB’s players to understand how hard it will be going to the MAC tournament again this year and trying to win it for a third straight year. “Preparation is everything,” he stresses.
Hunter says he always took pride in outworking everybody. It is a lesson he picked up, in part, playing in the NBA.
“The biggest influence in my life is my dad. He is the guy who taught me at a young age that hard work is what you hang your hat on,” he says. “That is the thing I based my career, my life and everything on.
“And I’ve just become like him, followed his example. My mom always tells him, ‘He’s just like you!’ And we all laugh, but it’s true, you know.”