Season Preview: CHD sits down with Utah Valley coach Dick Hunsaker

Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with Utah Valley coach Dick Hunsaker about being the unofficial king of quadruple-overtime.  


Your non-conference road schedule includes back-to-back games next month against Oklahoma State and Oregon, which of these two games do you feel will present your biggest test? In some preseason polls they are each ranked in the top-15 in the country, so that will be a tall order for us to compete. We are excited to face them but we respect the level of competition.

What are your expectations for the upcoming season? We hope to compete in the WAC, but there are a lot of new teams so there is a lot of uncertainty. We have waited a long time to have a chance to play for an automatic NCAA tourney bid, which means a lot to our university, so we just hope to do our best and be competitive in the conference.

You played at UTEP for Hall of Fame coach Don Haskins before transferring to Weber State.  How did you like playing for Haskins, and why did you decide to transfer? I learned so much from him in my one year there. I transferred because I was unsure if my feet were quick enough to keep the ball in front of me!

In the 1990 NCAA tourney as head coach at Ball State, Paris McCurdy hit a baseline jumper at the buzzer followed by a free throw with no time on the clock in a one-point win over Oregon State.  How did you settle on that play after allegedly scrapping the 1st 2 plays that you drew up in the huddle? The biggest discrepancy in the huddle at that moment was getting the right personnel on the floor. I actually ran a play that I never ran before, so the whole sequence was miraculous to be honest.

McCurdy and Curtis Kidd each had double-doubles in a two-point loss to eventual champion UNLV.  How were you able to keep it close against a team that won its six tourney games by an average of 18.7 points? McCurdy and Kidd were as tough a pair of customers as there were in the nation that year. Our team had a lot of swagger and confidence and was fearless, so as great as UNLV was we just viewed them as the next game on our schedule.

In 2000 you had to replace Rick Majerus as head coach at Utah when he took a personal leave of absence after the first game of the season.  How were you able to keep things on track en route to being named MWC COY? The biggest difficulty is that Rick was going to come back a few times during the year but something would always come up. He was such a leader with an amazing presence. We had a great group of young men who continued to persevere and were able to click late in the season and win a conference title.

You were named head coach at Utah Valley in 2002, why did you take the job? My family like the idea of staying in Utah. My colleagues said it was a “roadkill” job that would end my career, but fortunately it has been a wonderful stop and the greatest achievement of my coaching career: it has been a wonderful run.

In 2003 the program made the leap to D-1, what was the best part of making the switch, and what was the hardest part? I went there with the intention of going to D-1, and they followed through with that. The hardest parts were recruiting and scheduling. It is hard to sell a dream to a recruit when you cannot go to the NCAA tourney for a few years. The highlight was watching Ronnie Price develop into the poster child for our program: he is now entering his ninth year in the NBA. Ryan Toolson came here during my second year and is only 1/100th of a percentage point from being the greatest FT shooter in the history of college basketball.

In January 2009 David Holston and John Cantrell each scored 40+ points but Toolson had 63 points and 12 rebounds in a two-point, four-overtime win over Chicago State.  Where does that rank among the greatest offensive performances you have ever seen? It stops right there: 63 points is the highest single-point game in D-1 history in the state of Utah. Ryan is an international star in Spain right now and is as fine a shooter as I have ever been around, as well as the most mentally-tough shooter.

In January 2011 Jordan Swarbrick had 24 points, nin rebounds and nine assists in 54 minutes in a four-overtime win over North Dakota.  How on earth were you able to come back from a seven-point deficit with 37 seconds left in the third overtime? It is never over: you throw in a couple three-point shots and then the other team misses a FT or two and has a mental error, and lo and behold you have a chance. This game and the Chicago State game are two of the more special wins I have had here.

You son Holton was named 2013 Great West Male Scholar-Athlete of the Year: how proud are you of all his success, and how do you like coaching him? I give a lot of credit to his mother for all his classroom achievements. It is great to have him around and he really does give his best and tries to stretch his abilities to the limit.