Anteater Basketball’s Mr. Clutch

<strong>SCOTT ROEDER | Staff Photographer</strong><br/>Fourth-year senior Michael Hunter has been the team’s best outside shot. The 5 feet 10 inch guard has repeatedly come up big in crunch time this season and in his solid UCI career.

SCOTT ROEDER | Staff PhotographerFourth-year senior Michael Hunter has been the team’s best outside shot. The 5 feet 10 inch guard has repeatedly come up big in crunch time this season and in his solid UCI career.

As the rest of the UC Irvine Men’s Basketball team tower over most of the other students on campus, one player fits in quite well size-wise. Standing at 5 foot 10 inches, senior guard Michael Hunter is not exactly the tallest player on the court every night, but it is hard to find a player with more heart. In his fourth season here at UCI, Hunter is averaging 13.9 points per game and 2.3 assists per game, his second straight season that he has averaged double digit points and has been second on the team in assists. Hunter attributes his amazing consistency to hours of practice, but when you are as skilled a ball handler and creator as he is, it definitely does not hurt. Hunter says that his quickness and his basketball savvy are the best parts of his game and they are out on display every time he takes the court.

Hunter has been on a tear lately scoring in double figures in 11 of his last 12 games including a masterful 24 points on six of 11 shooting in a loss to Cal Poly.

“All that stuff doesn’t matter because we lost the game … but I really didn’t want that guy to dunk on me,” Hunter said, describing a dynamic interception of a Cal Poly alley-oop attempt where Hunter seemingly kept on rising.

Against Long Beach State on Thursday night, Hunter was at it again, scoring five points and getting two steals in the last two minutes of the game to seal a much needed conference win after three straight losses dropped Irvine to the bottom of the Big West conference. It was sweet redemption for Hunter, who had tried to drive the full-length of the court in the last 4.1 seconds of the Jan. 9 game at Long Beach, but had come up .2 seconds short of a game-tying layup. Earlier in the year, however, Hunter had nailed two clutch threes in the last minute of a game at Loyola Marymount, carrying UCI to the win. Against UC Riverside on Saturday, Hunter led the team with 20 points, including nine straight in the second half.

“Sometimes they go in, and sometimes they don’t,” Hunter said. “I will always have tremendous confidence in my shot and be willing to take that last shot.”

Living in Colorado and playing basketball in Maine, Hunter was lightly recruited coming out of prep school, receiving scholarship offers from Denver, Montana and Montana State. But after coming to California to visit family and to make an unofficial visit to the school, he impressed the coaches enough to later send him to Irvine on an official visit, and then ultimately offer him a scholarship. It was a dream come true for Hunter, who always wanted to go to school in California. Flash forward four years, Hunter is the only player left from his recruiting class. He was named to the Big West All-Freshmen team in his first season, and earned All-Conference honorbale mention accolades last year. In the UCI record books, Hunter is currently second all-time in three point baskets, with 208 in his career. Only Ross Schraeder, class of ‘06, with 233, has more. Hunter is also third on the all-time list at UCI for steals. Hunter is now one of UCI’s two captains and a leader on the team.

“As far as my actions and the way I conduct myself on and off the court, I consider myself to be a leader of this team,” Hunter said.

In an up and down season for the team, Hunter’s leadership and experience have lead the ’Eaters to a 9-10 record (pending) and have made UCI contenders in the Big West conference. Whether it’s making a key shot down the stretch or a great defensive play, Hunter seems to do it all while staying very humble and always putting the team’s success over his own. When asked whether he would rather make the game winning shot or the game winning assist Hunter answered, “It doesn’t matter, as long as we win the game.” Hunter has proven he is never afraid to take the last shot and there are few players UCI would want to take that shot other than their senior leader.

In an extremely even-matched conference, everything will come down to the Big West Tournament. If UCI is able to win that, Hunter’s biggest goal will be fulfilled: to make it to the NCAA tournament, a place that UCI has never been and a place Hunter thinks UCI has the personnel to go to.

“I think we have a lot of guys who want to do well and have bought in to our coaches system,” Hunter said. “Obviously we are not in the position we want to be in, but we hope to get on track over our next few games.”

The team has a lot of work to do after a shaky start in conference play, but with four of their next six conference games at home, UCI has a great chance to make a run.

As this season begins its final two months, Hunter’s UCI career also begins its final moments. “The experience [here at UCI] has been the way I have wanted it to be. It’s been great,” Hunter said.

While life after college seems scary to some, it doesn’t to Hunter whose number one priority is to play basketball. Hunter, who is half Mexican, does plan to obtain his Mexican citizenship, which would allow him to play basketball in Mexico, and potentially for the Mexican National Team. But if basketball is not in Hunter’s future, the studio art major is not too worried as he has other things lined up, like taking his studio art degree and working with his cousin down in Miami as a digital colorist. For now, Hunter is just focusing on playing Anteater basketball and trying to lead a young team to new found success. But one thing is for certain — when Hunter’s college career is over, it’s going to be tough to find a guard with the kind of talent, leadership and heart we see Hunter play with every night in the Bren Events Center.

David Gao contributed to this article.