LIAM Hunt’s outstanding SBL season might lead to professional basketball offers that he never previously considered, but that pales into insignificance to him in comparison to trying to win the ultimate prize with the Geraldton Buccaneers.
Hunt spent a significant period of his childhood growing up in Geraldton where his father Dan put together one of the great SBL careers where he racked up 382 appearances including five Grand Finals for that lone championship in 2000 in the club’s history.
That’s why Hunt was always keen to return to Geraldton once he finished his college career at High Point University and he had a solid 2018 season. But ultimately it ended disappointingly with the Buccs finishing as the No. 1 seed but knocked out in the first round by the Rockingham Flames.
That only stoked the fires more strongly for Hunt that what mattered more than anything was winning. No matter the team he plays for winning is always the focus but nowhere is that case even bigger than the Buccaneers.
Given his dad got to five Grand Finals for one championship and now season after season the Buccs have gone through disappointing finals exits, the only thing that Hunt is focused on is doing everything he can to bring that elusive championship back to Geraldton.
His focus is on performing as well as he possibly can for team success and he’s not focused on what that might end up doing for his own career, but without question his 2019 deserves to have seen him grab the attention of clubs both in Australia and abroad.
Hunt returned to the Buccs in 2019 a different player both in terms of his physical condition and his all-round game and that was already coming off a high benchmark.
But the Hunt of 2019 is clearly an MVP candidate in the SBL given he is producing 15.6 points, 9.8 rebounds and 2.8 assists a game while showing he can compete inside with the monsters in the league while having a handy outside game as well given his size.
While the way he is performing this year could, or at least should, lead to him becoming a sought after playing moving forward, his sole focus is on the Buccs and now the finals series which begins with Game 1 of their quarter-final series with the Warwick Senators this Saturday night at Warwick Stadium.
Winning a championship with Geraldton would mean the world to Hunt and he does allow himself to dream of what it would be like, but he’s well aware how hard it will be to accomplish after everything his dad was part of and what’s happened in the finals over recent times.
“If we win the whole thing, I’ll cry there’s no doubt about that. It would mean so much to me and to my family, but also to a lot of people,” Hunt said.
“The history with my dad as well, he went to the Grand Final with Geraldton five times and only won once, and now Matt has been here all those years and so as Ralphy, and each season has ended with empty finals runs.
“I think the town deserves it and while we might deserve it, we have to earn it and we have to take it one step and one game at a time. Last year we might have thought we’d get through the first round easily and Rockingham put us on our behind.
“They came out and showed us that they were the better team but this year, we just have to tell ourselves that we take it one game at a time and take care of business. No matter where we play, we have to stick it out together and we can’t let anything shift us. It has to be that mentality that hopefully drives us all the way.”
Hunt has been playing like a man possessed for most of the season, but he does feel his energies rising up another gear now that finals time is here.
He feels much more ready to impact the finals than he did last year when the Flames shocked the Buccs in two games and the absence of Matt Wundenberg inside for Geraldton proved pivotal.
But in hindsight, there’s plenty that Hunt feels everyone involved at the Buccaneers can learn from what happened a year ago which he hopes holds them in good stead this time around against the Senators.
“I love finals time and I’m exciting now to be at this time of the year. I’m obviously in a lot better shape than I was last year and I think the other boys are in a lot better shape as a group than we were last year as well,” he said.
“I think the seven losses that we’ve had have actually really helped us more this year rather than the three we only had last year.
“That’s helped us learn from them and I said at the start of the season I wouldn’t mind losing six or seven games, a pretty good guess, in order to go into the finals having learned from those and how to get over the hump in close games.
“We’ve had a few good wins this year like Rockingham in Rockingham which was a big win because they’re a really good side who will be there at the business end.
“I think all the top eight teams this year are as close as the league has been in a long time so now going into finals it’s exciting. Everyone is sore and banged up, but it’s about whichever team comes out and plays their behind off and has the best team who could end up winning it all.”
Upon reflection, Hunt saw from Rockingham with Greg Hire, Ryan Godfrey and NBL veteran Kevin White leading the way what it takes to succeed in a tough and tense playoff match up.
He hopes now that 12 months on it’s the Buccs that play with that composure and learn from the experience even though it’s a Senators team hardly lacking in experience and quality themselves.
“What we can learn from last year was Rockingham’s composure and experience come finals time. Obviously with Hire there and Godfrey, and they had Kevin White from the NBL and you could see the composure those three played with,” Hunt said.
“We went up 12 at home in that Game 2 but they still stayed composed and stuck to their game plan, and you could see their maturity. I think we learned a lot from that especially with me, Marcus and Colter back for a second season, we’ve built on that and learned from their experience.
“I hate that we lost in the first round but I don’t think that Rockingham team was an eighth seed and they ended up pushing Perry Lakes who ended up as the champions. We just learned how to be more composed in tough situations from that and more together, they really taught us that lesson.
“Now heading into this finals hopefully we’ll be a bit more healthy with a full side back even though Marcus is going through a bit of an illness. Hopefully we are happy, healthy and ready to give it a real crack while learning from last year and riding the momentum all the way through.”
When Hunt was talking this time 12 months ago, he knew that there was his plenty of growth in his game and physically that he could make.
He set his sights on returning to Geraldton in 2019 a different player both in terms of his game the physical shape he was in, and he was well and truly a man of his word.
Significantly trimmed down but not having lost any of his strength and now more agile and durable, he has delivered an outstanding season for the Buccs and that has in turn helped lessen the burden on some of his teammates, particularly the pressure on Ralph and Wundenberg to play big minutes.
All Hunt is focused on doing is giving his all ever second he’s on the court and that full-hearted attitude has been why he’s put together such a strong season.
“That was the goal 12 months ago to get a bit more in shape and I thought once I did that I could be more productive and play more minutes. I think that was my issue last year, I would have these little two or three-minute bursts and would be exhausted and have to come out,” Hunt said.
“Now I can go for six or seven really tough and if I have to I can push out a 40-minute game and I’m ready for that, but I wasn’t last year.
“I think that goes a long way to giving Matt a bit more rest so he can come in and be a lot more productive and with Ralphy as well, he can come in with his three-point shooting and his willing desire to get a rebound and get on the floor.
“Hopefully my being able to play more minutes has given those guys a bit more freedom to not have to carry the load so much and then having the defence focus more on me, hopefully has been a bit of a blessing for my teammates.
“I don’t mind getting the focus and attention, I’ll just keep battling and if they beat me, they beat me but I know I have my boys behind me to back me up when I’m having a tough night. The goal was to come back fitter this year and be a better player, and hopefully I’ve done that and it can carry on through the finals.”
As for his future beyond playing in the SBL, it’s actually not something Hunt has thought too much about.
He would be more than open to any offers that might come his way to play professionally whether it’s in the NBL where he does qualify to play as a local or anywhere overseas.
But if it doesn’t eventuate, he’s happy to remain committed to splitting his time between life as a substitute teacher and basketball player.
“Playing in the NBL would be terrific obviously but I honestly haven’t thought too much about it. I read an article a few weeks ago where my name was mentioned but before that, it had never been a thought in my mind,” Hunt said.
“I’ve just been trying to get better and be a better player, and if someone picks me up then they pick me up. I just want to keep playing. Whenever an opportunity comes, I won’t promise I’ll score 20 or anything like that, all I can promise is that I’ll play as hard as I can and be the best teammate I can and push everybody on that team to be better, because I want to win.
“There’s not many stats or anything that I care about except us winning the game. I don’t care what I have or what the other people have, I just want to win the game and that’s how I’ve got to this point. I’ve done that through high school and college, and I’ll stay on winning teams because I’ll make sure my boys are ready.
“If I’m not the leader, then I’ll make sure everyone is ready to amp up every day. If I did get a chance somewhere I’d love that and if they wanted to give me a call I’d be happy to talk about details with anybody. I would be ready for any opportunity and I would make sure I make the most of it.
“But if it’s not the NBL, if it was a European team or from anywhere else, I’d definitely look at that but if nothing happens, I’ve got my teaching which I love. I would be happy to go into full-time teaching at a school once I’m done playing basketball but also right now my brother is playing over in Europe so he can go see him.
“He has a contract in Turkey now which is really exciting and if I get an opportunity somewhere and it’s a good gig for me, then I’ll be happy to give it a go. But for now I’m just enjoying the game here and am having a blast.”