Friday, March 19, 2004 | 9:35 a.m.
His brief career at UNLV didn't begin the way Demetrius Hunter had planned. It hardly ended the way he had envisioned, either. Foot problems plagued him from start to finish.
A Cheyenne High product, Hunter left Georgetown to return home, then he experienced three consecutive tight defeats in Mountain West Conference tournament title games that preceded trips to the National Invitation Tournament.
The Rebels could taste the choice cut of filet mignon at N9NE, the primo steakhouse at the Palms, only to have the bus diverted to Dog Eat Dog on West Charleston. No, J.K. Edwards, you can't have a second chili-cheese special.
All Hunter got out of three seasons at UNLV was one postseason victory, a home triumph against Arizona State two years ago. Even that was nothing special, though, because he didn't play -- it occurred at the end of his redshirt (transfer) season.
And the forgettable 2003-04 season, which mercifully came to an end Wednesday night in Boise, contained Odartey Blankson's all-too-public blowup in Salt Lake City, Charlie Spoonhour's resignation, and some extremely disorganized and selfish play.
Hunter, however, has not complained about anything or anyone. He came home with class and dignity, and those two qualities will be remembered about his all-too-short stay at UNLV.
"Despite all we went through this season, I had a great time," he said Thursday, a day after the possible end of his playing career. "With all I went through, injuries or whatever, I had a great time. It didn't end on a positive note.
"Still, I can honestly say I had a great time here at UNLV. I wish them the best with the next coaching staff coming in."
Hunter, 23, said Jay Spoonhour did as well as could be expected when he took over the reins of the team after his father stepped aside last month.
"He did a great job, a tremendous job," Hunter said of the younger Spoonhour. "My hat's off to him, because he went through some things the past couple of weeks that, I'm pretty sure, he's not too pleased with.
"But he has to take it and move on. I'm happy how he handled the situation. It's been a tough one, especially after (Wednesday). It was tough. It's over now, and you can't do nothin' but move on."
Hunter attributed much of the team's early chaos, like an ugly defeat to Northern Arizona at the Thomas & Mack Center, to a lack of cohesion that's common with so many new faces and unfamiliar styles.
That's understandable. But the season devolved. The Rebels started showing some passion, with high-fives and well-placed pats, only after Charlie stepped down and Jay allowed them to run with abandon.
That lack of a disciplined game often glaringly revealed itself on the defensive end.
Romel Beck -- no "D" in his name or game -- seemed to believe he would get style points for any of his assorted whirling-dervish spin-meister dribbling exhibitions. Blankson, one of the tallest Rebels at 6-feet-8, had an unnerving penchant for jacking 22-footers.
Too often, a low-post Rebel attempted an inane shot while, at least, being double-teamed and with no teammate around the rim to yank down a potential rebound.
"People can say we played with blinders on," Hunter said. "But when Jay took over, it was a different team, completely different. He did a great job of coaching us, and we started playing a little bit better. We showed that in the Mountain West tournament.
"A lot of people probably didn't think we'd go that far, but we came a jump shot short of going to the NCAA tournament."
According to Hunter, point guard Jerel Blassingame, Beck and Blankson -- already dubbed the Killer Bees in anticipation of next season by one local ardent fan -- will be better in '04-05 having played a season together.
"Basketball plays a lot of mind games with you," Hunter said, "and I can understand them being frustrated. They learned."
Frustrations boiled inside Blankson, to where he violated a major players' tenet by publicly airing his problems with the team's lack of chemistry and camaraderie, and the coaches' lack of direction.
Even with Blankson, Hunter could not find fault.
"Odartey is a great player," Hunter said. "Was he wrong? I can't say he was wrong for saying that. He's a stand-up type of player. I wish him the best. The statement he made, I can't comment whether he was wrong or right.
"I don't know whether he should have said that, at the time, going through what we went through. But he's a stand-up type guy and I can't knock him for that."
Hunter is realistic about his ability to continue playing the game, considering his repeated problems with his feet, and he might seriously consider a career in law enforcement.
Thursday, so fresh off the end of his collegiate career, the Georgia native said he's grateful to have been given the opportunity to play before so many friends in his adopted hometown.
"I'm very thankful I got a chance to play at home," Hunter said. "People have been good to me here in the city. They've been great to me, from the fans on down to the coaching staff. the city's been great to me. The experience I had here was a good one.
"My two years of playing weren't the best, because of injuries or whatnot, but there are great people here and I hope to stay in contact with all of them."
Brigham Young was ousted out of the first round of the NCAA tournament Thursday by defending national champion Syracuse.
We, however, will not miss the low-post thuggery of either Rafael Araujo or Jake Shoff. That's a combined 560 pounds of moving screen, flailing elbows and right hooks.
What the Mountain West officials allowed Araujo to get away with this season was unforgivable, and Shoff was simply a football right tackle playing hoops in a headband like a bull in a Lladro shop.