By Kevin Wilson
Even when things are going well, Eastern New Mexico University junior Jamaal Hunnicutt expects more — of himself and his teammates.
The Greyhounds won the Lone Star Conference South basketball championship last year. Hunnicutt thinks they can win the national title.
The Hounds (4-3) beat the defending NCAA Division II champion Northeastern State on Saturday. Hunnicutt expects more.
Coming off of a year when the Hounds graduated five seniors, it is Hunnicutt who has stepped up his game the most. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound forward was named to the LSC South second team last year, and is nearly averaging a double-double with 10.6 points and 9.4 rebounds per game this year.
“Just us playing together, we can beat anybody,” Hunnicutt said. He says that not to be cocky, but as a player confident that if the team takes care of business, things will fall into place like they did last season.
Things have fallen into place for Hunnicutt at ENMU, though not through the conventional route. After three solid seasons on the varsity at Randall High School in Amarillo, Hunnicutt received a few offers to play college basketball, mostly from junior colleges.
One of those schools was South Plains Junior College, where current Greyhound coach Shawn Scanlan was at the time.
“I think Jamaal was overlooked,” Scanlan said. “Jamaal played on a good team, but he wasn’t a dominant player. He was undersized and a lot of people were afraid he couldn’t play inside.”
Hunnicutt decided to try the junior college route, but never played a minute at Hill Junior College because he expected more of a role than he was offered.
“You’ve got to go through some hard things in your life, and that was one of mine,” Hunnicutt said. “The coach and I didn’t see eye-to-eye on playing time.”
After redshirting a year at Hill, Hunnicutt transferred to Eastern. Three years later, he’s one of the most experienced Greyhounds, teaching the ropes to some of Eastern’s younger players.
“He’s been in this for a long time, he’s a very smart player,” said freshman Matt Carpenter, who Hunnicutt often guards in practice. “He knows how to cut you, he knows how to post you up, he knows how to make you mad.”
He expects that same attitude from his teammates. Last week, Hunnicutt called an informal team meeting leading up to the Hounds’ game at Northeastern State.
“Everyone was doing their own thing,” Hunnicutt said. “We just needed to be a unit. Everybody got a lot of stuff off their chests and we decided to be a family on the court.”
The extra ‘A’ in Jamaal’s name, he said, was because his parents named him after former Los Angeles Lakers star Jamaal Wilkes.
Just as his parents put something extra in his name, his coaches expect something extra in his game.
“He can give us more,” Scanlan said, “and I do put that challenge in front of him.”
Scanlan expects more. Instead of averaging 9.4 rebounds, Scanlan thinks Hunnicutt can push that number to double digits with more work on the offensive boards. Scanlan believes Hunnicutt could be shooting better, both from the free-throw line (64 percent) and the field (49 percent).
“If he continues to improve at this rate,” Scanlan said, “he’s going to be really good before he leaves.”
That’s a day his teammates aren’t looking forward to.
“I’m so glad we have him on our team,” Carpenter said. “He won’t quit on you.”