Gazette Preps Peak Performer : Hunter Maldonado, Vista Ridge, basketball

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Photo - Vista Ridge forward Hunter Maldonado goes in for a lay up during the Sand Creek and Vista Ridge boys basketball game at Sand Creek High School on Wednesday, January 25, 2017. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette
Vista Ridge forward Hunter Maldonado goes in for a lay up during the Sand Creek and Vista Ridge boys basketball game at Sand Creek High School on Wednesday, January 25, 2017. Photo by Stacie Scott, The Gazette

Vista Ridge senior Hunter Maldonado won't settle in the spotlight. He'd prefer to pass it on.

By now, a collection of the Wyoming commit's runaway dunks and filthy finishes has spread far across the Twitter landscape, as many basketball enthusiasts have at least gotten a peek at the forward's on-court potential.

His bigger attributes are offline.

Maldonado, with the end of his high school career in sight, says he hopes to leave behind a team that continues to prosper well after he's gone. His guidance through some early season growing pains certainly has helped the cause.

"I've told my teammates if they can learn from some of the lessons I tried to teach them, certain things, later down the road they won't have to go through the things we did earlier this year and my last year," said Maldonado, who helped the Wolves get out some bad habits early on. "If they can learn those things I'll be happy. Just to see that they're not going through things we've already been through, I'll feel pretty successful at that."

Last week, Maldonado had double-doubles in wins over Greeley West and Lakewood in the first two rounds of the 5A playoffs.

His 19 points and 10 rebounds Wednesday, and 20 and 10 Saturday, came despite being the primary focus of the opponents' game plan. But even more telling of his impact may have been the play of his younger teammates.

"We all know Hunter is the big star and all that, but he's the guy that encourages us to step up and score more points and do more things on the basketball court," said sophomore guard Julius Dowell, who had a career-high 14 points in a 52-44 win over the Tigers on Saturday. "He's just leading us."

Earlier in the year, Maldonado pushed his teammates to up their intensity and play less selfishly after Vista Ridge started 3-4, which included a 24-point loss to Liberty on Dec. 17.

He mimics his coach, Joe Hites, preaching that no one player can do it alone on the court. He practices that in a desire to not only improve his game but make everyone around him better.

"That's one of the biggest things, if you can get one guy to follow you, then two guys to follow you, then sooner or later the whole team has to follow you or they're going to be standing out," Maldonado said. "And no one wants to stand out by themselves. That's one of the things coach Hites tried to get me to do and that's what we preach, making everyone else better."

Maldonado has at least one more game - and the hopes of a few more - left in high school. The No. 17 Wolves will have to beat No. 1 Eaglecrest in the round of 16 on Wednesday for him to continue.

When it is over, though, he'll take his basketball talents and gracious personality to Laramie, Wyo.

What they're getting, Hites says, is someone who gets good grades, is respected by his teammates, classmates and coaches. He shows admiration and respect to all - he eats lunch with a school custodian every day - and promises to stay grounded.

"I told (Wyoming coach) Allen Edwards what kind of kid they're getting," Hites said. "There hasn't been a better player or person to come through here."