My absolute favorite day being a Nuggets blogger came during the 57 win season. But oddly enough, it wasn't after a win. It wasn't during an on record interview. It was when I stood in the practice gym with Blake Olson and Chris Dempsey, as we listened to Melvin Hunt hold court with us for about an hour and a half. I was supposed to be somewhere else at that time, but I couldn't pull myself away from Hunt's tales. It was incredible.
He shared with us that back when he lived in Michigan, for a short time growing up (before moving to Tallulah, Louisiana), that he'd sneak to the basketball gym at the school his mother taught at to watch Ervin Johnson (Magic!) and other local stars play pick up hoops. He told us about the first time he dunked a basketball (hilarious story of a young man realizing an amazing feat). He told us about how teams would duck his high school team, but play them behind closed doors in glorified scrimmages - his team coming out on top more often than not. He shared with us how, when he was in high school, he was recruited by different colleges. He ultimately went to Baylor, but had a very interesting visit to Montana State, where he could have potentially played for the Bobcats. He has a great story about bobcats, and why you should always ask a kid from Louisiana if he likes bobcats, before proclaiming they are all over the place in Montana.
He shared with us his disappointment that Louisiana State University stopped recruiting him for another player. Some kid named Chris Jackson, that after Hunt saw play - understood why they wanted him. Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf would later workout for the Houston Rockets, in the twilight of his career, as Melvin, a member of the Rockets coaching staff, marveled at how the older player could still get it done on the court.
It was an amazing moment in my life that I easily could have missed, but an afternoon that will remain one of my favorite memories for as long as I'm around. Melvin Hunt is also a family man. He'll often talk about his wife and kids, as passionately as he discusses the game. And make no mistake, he's passionate about the game and teaching it with a glass half full outlook.
"He's a huge personality, that's Melvin: personality," said Ty Lawson. "He knows how to motivate people. And also to get people, I'm not going to blow smoke in their face, but he knows how to get the best out of everybody - even if he's gassing a little bit. Sometimes you need that as a coach."
It's good to hear that Melvin, who before the game joked that his team would look, "...light skinned and chubby" in his image, can also have a serious side, but still find a way to motivate even when he's not liking what he's seeing on the court. Last night we saw more organization during timeouts, Melvin up and working the refs, and instructing his team. And after the win, we saw Hunt steal Lawson's headband and pat his point guard on the chest. Motivation.
In an interview a few seasons ago, I asked Melvin if he thought players watched other NBA games and if he spent a lot of his free time doing that. He said he would often text players or receive texts from them about games going on when the Nuggets had nights off. He shared with me how he likes to steal plays that he sees other teams running, commonplace in the NBA. He's a gym rat, and one that deserves a serious look as an NBA head coach, in Denver or elsewhere.
You can't help but be drawn to Melvin Hunt. His positive energy and willingness to talk about the game are contagious. I was impressed with Hunt and wanted to see what, then coach, George Karl thought of him. Karl told me that Hunt had "the voice" to be an NBA head coach, and Karl would be rooting for him to one day get that opportunity. Melvin is a born communicator and will be a great voice for the Nuggets the rest of the way. I don't know how seriously the Nuggets will look at Hunt to be their next permanent head coach, but he will be a positive light the rest of this season. Sooner or later, some team will take a shot on Hunt to run their team, and it's my hope that he truly succeeds.
Some nuts and bolts on Hunt throughout his NBA coaching career, from NBA.com:
Melvin Hunt is entering his fifth season on the Nuggets coaching staff, after spending the previous five years as an assistant coach with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Hunt has spent time in Italy working with Danilo Gallinari and he participated alongside Nuggets C Timofey Mozgov in Basketball Without Borders in Russia in 2012.
While in Cleveland, Hunt helped lead the Cavaliers to one of the most successful stretches in franchise history. In 2008-09, the Cavs won a franchise and NBA-best 66 games, while Hunt and the coaching staff earned the honor of coaching the Eastern Conference in the 2009 NBA All-Star Game in Phoenix. Cleveland also enjoyed great postseason success during Hunt's tenure with the team, reaching the 2007 NBA Finals, the 2009 Eastern Conference Finals and four consecutive appearances in the Eastern Conference Semifinals from 2007-10.
Before joining the Cavaliers staff, Hunt spent one season (2004-05) as an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Lakers and five seasons with the Houston Rockets (1999-2004). While with the Rockets, he served two years as a video coordinator/scout and two years as an assistant coach before spending his final year as the team's college and international scout.
Prior to working in the NBA, Hunt coached on both the collegiate and high school levels. He began his coaching career as an assistant coach at Temple High School (TX) before moving to the college ranks where he was the lead assistant coach at Incarnate Word University in San Antonio.
Hunt earned his Bachelor's degree in business administration and a Master's degree in education from Baylor University where he spent four years on the basketball team. He was a four-year letterman and a three-year starter for the Bears from 1987-91 and helped lead his team to both the NCAA and NIT tournaments. Following his graduation, Hunt played professional basketball in the Caribbean and Mexico.
Some tidbits from Melvin Hunt's introductory pre-game presser:
On his biggest challenge the rest of the season:
"Don't know yet, don't know yet. I'm going to ad-lib and play it by ear."
On how he views his team:
"We have some young men in there who are very capable, who are prideful, and we're going to stoke that fire and we are going to find a way to stir it up a little bit."
On getting a crack at being a head coach:
"This is not the way you want it to happen, because are a lot of people involved - a lot of people that are impacted by this - but in the pit of my stomach there is a little bit of excitement because I love to compete and I love challenges."
On how he'll react to team:
"A wise man once told me: Be careful reacting. I'm going to respond to that. My response to that is: We are all in this together, it comes down to us having a synergy, having a single minded focus going in one direction, it's not about pointing fingers. It's about going out there and doing a job, giving these fans the things they need, the things they want. And I think we'll be able to do that. I'm not going to point any fingers."
On what his team will look like:
"They'll be light skinned and chubby."
Hunt's bottom line:
"I'm here to try to help our guys win games."