LARAMIE — Two members of Wyoming’s vaunted three-man freshman class have yet to see the court in a Cowboys jersey. The one who has played, though, has made an immediate impact.
Freshman Hunter Maldonado made his fifth start of the season Wednesday, as the Cowboys defeated San Diego State 82-69 to begin Mountain West play. Maldonado, who started in pace of senior guard Alexander Aka Gorski, hadn’t started since Nov. 21, Wyoming’s fourth game of the season.
“Well, a lot of what Hunter does don’t show up on the stat sheet,” Wyoming head coach Allen Edwards said. “But he’s very effective. And Alex has been going through it a little bit. I sat Alex down. We talked about it. But actually, I thought he played well (Wednesday) coming off the bench. But what I think that Hunter brings to the table for us is I think he’s another energetic guy.
“When you look at the ability of a (Justin James), Al (Herndon), (Hayden Dalton), Cody (Kelley), I think he just fits perfectly with that group. And I think Alex is always, regardless if he’s making or missing shots, guys respect him enough to know that if he’s open, he’s going to shoot the basketball.”
Wyoming has gone 5-0 in Maldonado’s starts. The 6-foot-7, 185-pound Colorado Springs product might have been the least venerated member of Wyoming’s freshman class. Pine Bluffs graduate Hunter Thompson had a four-star rating from ESPN and had previously committed to Creighton, and guard Anthony Mack had numerous offers from high-profile programs, including a late offer from Villanova.
But Maldonado is the one who has made an immediate impact. Thompson underwent surgery on his ankle and will redshirt this season, while Mack has yet to play because of a concussion and could redshirt as well. Wednesday, Maldonado had six points, six rebounds and four assists in 30 minutes.
In Wyoming’s season opener, he became the first Cowboy true freshman to start since James did so in 2015-16. Maldonado has a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio, the best of any Wyoming player with at least five assists. He is also just one off the team lead in steals, despite having played the seventh-most minutes.
“I just work hard, do what I can, and if I get to start, I get to start,” Maldonado said. “Just go give these guys everything I have.”
“Which he does,” Dalton interrupted.
“To me, the start doesn’t matter,” Maldonado continued. “It’s just what I can give to them and help the team.”
Maldonado’s success shouldn’t come as too big of a shock. After committing to Wyoming, he averaged 23.7 points per game his senior season at Vista Ridge High School.
“I think Hunter’s … a really good player,” Edwards said. “And to be able to do some of the things that he’s doing as a freshman, kudos, because I think he’s a great kid. He listens and he applies. You don’t have to really tell him twice, and I think that helps what we’re trying to do.”