From Tallulah to the NBA: Melvin Hunt’s journey as a coach

“I grew up in Tallulah, Louisiana,” Melvin Hunt said as we chatted earlier in the year for a story I did during Black History Month.

Louisiana was the place Hunt called home, but it was during his formative years that the Hunt family moved north to Flint, Michigan, where the economy was booming at the time. Before the economy took a turn for the worse in the ’80s, Hunt found himself moving back to Louisiana in eighth grade.

As Hunt says, “this was one of the best things to ever happen.”

Hunt would spend his high school years playing basketball and would be recruited nationally to play collegiate ball. After considering schools across the country, Hunt made his decision to attend Baylor University from 1987-91.

Little did he know that he would form relationships at Baylor that would shape the rest of his life.

Hunt would not only meet his future wife at Baylor, but would also establish a close friendship with two men that would go on to make their own mark in the league.

“Dennis Lindsey, the Utah Jazz general manager, was my roommate, and David Wesley, who is my best friend and does television for the Pelicans, was my other backcourt mate… All three of us are NBA guys off the same team out of Baylor,” Hunt said.

Lindsey graduated from Baylor in 1992 and found himself bouncing around the league before landing the general manager role in Utah in 2012.

Wesley spent 14 seasons in the NBA with the New Jersey Nets, Boston Celtics, Charlotte (and New Orleans) Hornets, Houston Rockets, and Cleveland Cavaliers. He was hired in 2012 as part of the broadcast team for the Hornets.

All three guys made up the same back court at Baylor and remain close friends to this day.

Hunt would test the waters of professional ball before heading to Grambling Sate University for graduate school. One of his jobs while back in Louisiana was actually as a middle school math teacher.

“I actually taught math back home in Louisiana for a short while: 7th and 8th grade mathematics… I have really been blessed to do a lot of different things,” Hunt said.

After not finding a job that he desired, Hunt would move back to Baylor to become an academic advisor for four years. During that time at Baylor, Hunt was a local referee while also helping coach an AAU team, a women’s team, and a 4th/5th grade team.

“I knew God was calling me to coach and to use it as a platform,” Hunt said.

Hunt and his family then came to an agreement. Coaching was Melvin’s calling and it was time for him to go all in. After re-connecting with some old friends, Hunt took a high school coaching job at Temple High School in Temple, Texas. He would spend a year there before taking a college coaching job outside of San Antonio that wouldn’t last very long.

Just a few months down the road, an old friend came calling by the name of Dennis Lindsey. Lindsey was working for the Houston Rockets at the time under Carroll Dawson, former Rockets GM. They had an opportunity for Melvin and he knew it was his shot.

“Next thing you know I am the assistant video coordinator for the Houston Rockets,” Hunt said.

Melvin would spend the next five years in Houston working under the great Rudy Tomjanovich.

“Working under Rudy Tomjanovich was the best guy ever for an entry-level guy,” Hunt said. “He wanted me to grow, not afraid to let me grow. He let all his employers touch everything. We were all cross-trained.”

From sitting in on free agent meetings to scouting players overseas, Hunt did it all during his time with the Rockets.

“I was in China when we drafted Yao Ming. I was always in China,” Hunt said about his scouting time in Houston. This was during the pre-Tracy McGrady days in Houston. “Steve Francis, (Cuttino) Mobley, Yao, Eddie Griffin, Maurice Taylor… we were the young upstart team,” Hunt said.

Jeff Van Gundy would eventually come in as the new coach of the Rockets and Hunt decided to follow Tomjanovich to Los Angeles to be a coach for the Lakers.

This is where Hunt’s relationship with Kobe Bryant took off and is still something special to him to this day.

“Kobe’s last trip to the Mavericks, we still talk obviously, but I have a great picture of he and I walking off the court and I am palming the back of his head. It is a great picture,” Hunt said.

Fast-forwarding through his time in Los Angeles for a year, Hunt would then head to Cleveland in 2005 to be an assistant for the Cavaliers for the next five years.

“At one point in time I was a trivia question. Who is the only coach in the league to coach LeBron and Kobe? It was me until Mike Brown got the Laker job,” Hunt said.

Kobe. LeBron. Dirk. Hunt could form a pretty mean all-time starting five of players he has coached.

“I had Hakeem, I had Barkley at the end of his career,” Hunt said. “I had Melo before we traded him in Denver. Melo and Chauncey Billups. I have put together like an NBA All-Star, like first team, second team, third team and it’s been hard. I had old Shaq in Cleveland.”

As Hunt mentioned his days in Denver with Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups, we then transition into his time in Denver before coming to Dallas in 2015. Hunt was an assistant coach in Denver from 2010-2014, and would end up spending the last 23 games of the 2014-15 season serving as the interim head coach. Now, in his third year in Dallas, Hunt is preparing under Rick Carlisle to one day take the next step.

“Rick is putting the final schlacking on and polishing me off as a coach and a leader. It’s getting me ready for one day when it is my day to be a head coach,” Hunt said. “Right now, Rick treats me like a head coach. Everything he goes about with me he treats me like a head coach. When we make decisions in the game, ultimately we know he has the final say, but he comes to me just like I’m another head coach over there. He asks and listens. I give information and sometimes I call him out and he really listens. He knows I’m ready and prepared.”

In putting those final touches on Hunt, the relationship is unique because of their completely different personalities and coaching styles. For that, Hunt couldn’t be more grateful to learn in the areas he lacks.

“I can’t say how thankful I am working with Rick. We are so different but we get along really well and a big time respect,” Hunt said. “He has me have conversations with Mark (Cuban) like he has with Mark. The first time I had a conversation with Mark, being a good assistant coach, I went to Rick and was like, ‘You know Mark asked me about this and this’ because I work for Rick. Rick said ‘oh good, you need to talk to him more.'”

This was crazy to Hunt. Carlisle was suggesting Hunt meet with Cuban more so that he could go through every single aspect of what being a head coach looks like. So what exactly is it like coaching under Rick Carlisle?

“Rick is a modern-day renaissance man,” Hunt said. He went on to praise Carlisle’s intelligence, but also mentioned the personal side not everyone gets to see all of the time.

“We had one of greatest conversations as a staff talking basketball. Next thing you know, Rick was drawing up a schematic on the whiteboard of the farm he grew up on,” Hunt said.

For Carlisle and the team, there is nothing but love for the impact that Hunt has had on the staff.

“Melvin is a veteran assistant that is very well thought of,” Carlisle said. “He’s done a great job for us. He has been a head coach so he has that perspective. He has been a long-time assistant and a former player too. Those are things to contribute to his ability to communicate and be a real asset on the staff.”

As far as when the right time will be for Hunt to be a head coach, it’s not about his plans, but God’s, as Hunt’s Christian faith is the driving force in his life.

“The plan is whatever God has, but I know he has me on this road for a reason,” Hunt said. “You can be a head coach and be miserable. I’ve seen guys become a head coach and lose their families because they had to compromise who they were as men. I’m not going to take just any job. It has to be the right job for me, my situation and my family. I’m not thirsty. The right one will happen and it will be good.”

The “right one” might be in the cards for Hunt in the future. But for now, he will continue to be the fun, hard-working assistant coach that everyone in the organization looks forward to seeing everyday.

And for that, we couldn’t be more thankful to have Melvin Hunt as a Dallas Maverick.