Treasure Hunt is one of the highest-rated recruits to ever suit up for Kentucky Women’s Basketball, so why isn’t she playing?
It’s a common question asked amongst the die-hards of the Wildcats fanbase. Hunt was a five-star recruit and rated by multiple outlets as a consensus top 10 player in the class of 2020. Standing at 6-foot-1, she plays more like a points-hunting guard than a post-up forward. Her physical traits were reminiscent of Rhyne Howard when she first showed up on campus two years prior–not to mention they’re both from the same area in Tennessee where they grew up learning the game of basketball under Treasure’s mother, Keisha Hunt.
And yet, despite all the hype–the same type of hype that Howard did not receive as an incoming rookie–Hunt has not lived up to expectations on the hardwood. Through No. 12 Kentucky’s 9-3 start, the product of Chattanooga, TN has seen the floor in just seven outings, playing a hair over 10 minutes per outing when she does work her way into some clock.
Hunt’s 71 minutes this season are 10th amongst her UK teammates, and 14 fewer than fellow first-year player Nyah Leveretter, who came to Lexington as a four-star recruit but has played steady minutes during non-conference and SEC play. Hunt, on the other hand, has not seen a single second of playing time through Kentucky’s first four conference games (Leveretter earned 13 minutes across three games). Most of the prized high school product’s minutes came early in the season against opponents such as Marshall and Samford.
Even when head coach Kyra Elzy did float some minutes to Hunt, her inexperience and lack of understanding when it came to the college level were apparent. Outside of a 12-point showing in her Kentucky debut against Murray State, Hunt has not scored more than three points in any game this season. Her most involved outings came consecutively against Marshall, Samford, and Wofford, where she played a combined 38 minutes, but posted just seven points on a 3-14 shooting clip.
Even still, you can clearly see her potential as someone who can score at all three levels. Her size mixed with a pure jump shot is a rare combination. Hunt isn’t even mildly afraid to shoot the ball.
Even against non-Power 5 conference opponents, Hunt never looked completely comfortable on the floor, usually deferring on offense. However, this isn’t to say she never plays hard, because her effort fighting for loose balls and energy on defense is visible more often than not. Hunt’s lack of playing time isn’t an indictment of her current skill, but more so a result of the myriad talent that plays ahead of her.
In reality, whose minutes are Hunt going to bite into, especially during the middle of conference play? The starters–Howard, Blair Green, Chasity Patterson, KeKe McKinney, and Dre’Una Edwards–are non-negotiables. Robyn Benton, Olivia Owens, and Jazmine Massengill have to play big minutes off of the bench. That’s an eight-woman rotation right there built around experienced talent and upper-class leadership. Leveretter provides a rebounding punch off the bench that Hunt simply can’t.
Coach Elzy, to her credit, in her first year as the lead woman, is still trying to balance and figure out how to best incorporate that group of eight. The lack of a normal offseason and a few missed non-conference games during an unusual coronavirus-influenced season surely contributed to Hunt’s shortage of familiarity, as well–and likely to Elzy’s ability to transition from top assistant to head coach.
Make no mistake about it, though: Hunt is a player the Kentucky coaching staff plans to build the future of the program around. Someone will have to assume the throne once Howard graduates and heads to the WNBA after the conclusion of next season. Elzy believes Hunt can be that player, and the coaching staff is molding her right now to one day take control of that position.
“Treasure and I just had a great conversation today,” Elzy said on Tuesday. “Treasure has great potential, she’s a prolific scorer, she has great size. Right now she is a freshman and she’s learning and we have been through the gauntlet with our schedule. She’s sitting behind some vets. Treasure is going to make an impact on this program. She continues to progress in practice. There will be some games where we can get her in, but we will build our future around Treasure. Very high hopes for Treasure Hunt here.”
While Hunt didn’t get a chance to go up against Kentucky’s hellacious opening SEC slate of four consecutive top 12 opponents, she might be able to earn some clock against the lower-tiered intra-conference programs. The ‘Cats take on a 4-3 Vanderbilt squad this Sunday and a 5-6 Auburn team on Thursday, two games that Hunt could feasibly play in if Kentucky can bust open early leads.
In terms of college eligibility, this year essentially doesn’t count. Hunt can gain an entire season of experience and still have four full years left in Lexington ahead of the 2021-22 season. Any extra playing time is basically an added bonus for her long-term development at Kentucky.
Hunt’s time as a star Wildcat will come eventually, she just has to wait her turn.