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Hubbard’s journey from unknown to Loyola star

Special to So Much Sports Baltimore from One-Bid Wonders

By: Sam Perkins

Tyler Hubbard wasn't heavily recruited out of high school and averaged only 2.8 points per game as a redshirt freshman but as a junior he leads the team in scoring and is their clear leader.

Tyler Hubbard wasn’t heavily recruited out of high school and averaged only 2.8 points per game as a redshirt freshman but as a junior he leads the team in scoring and is their clear leader.

Loyola head coach G.G. Smith gathered his players from the far corners — the plush couches and hardwood lockers — spread across the spacious, state of the art locker room in the Barclays Center, home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets.

A little over an hour before tip-off against Fairfield, Smith sat his players down and looked them in the eyes.

“If you can’t get up for this game,” said Smith, referencing what might be the only time the young players would ever run out under the brightest of lights and set foot on the hallowed hardwood of an NBA venue, “Then you shouldn’t be playing the sport.”

Smith repeated these words, hoping they would embed themselves in the subconscious of 13 of the players on his young, impressionable roster. For the 14th man in uniform that day, no words needed to be spoken — the message had been received long before Smith had moved his lips to utter a single syllable: Tyler Hubbard had been living by them every time he had ever set foot on a court – from the cracked black tops of Washington, D.C., to dingy high school gyms, and on to the white-hot spotlight of the Barclays Center.

“I’m a player that brings it every day. I never take a day off. Our coach G.G. Smith emphasizes never take days off and I never do,” says Hubbard, a quiet confidence – swag as he and Smith call it – carried softly on his subtle District dialect.

“At the end of the day, if you want to be great at something – anything in life – you have to put the work in. There’s probably somebody right now as we’re talking working hard on their game, so you always have to be working hard.”

Tyler Hubbard has been putting in work every second of every day since he first picked up a basketball at the age of seven to put himself in exactly the position he is now: A Division I college basketball player en route to becoming a college graduate.

“I’m just a hard working player that brings it every day,” he says. “I want to be a leader on and off the court. I want my teammates to follow in my footsteps; if they see me working hard they’re going to work as well.”

The saying goes that it isn’t the size of the dog in the fight but the size of the fight in the dog.

It has been uttered time and time again, ad nausea, in sweaty high school locker rooms and aging, stale gymnasiums. But in small college gymnasiums far from the limelight, it continues to ring true for Hubbard, who is listed at 6’2” 170 pounds. He would need to stand on several phone books to see that height.

“He’s only 5-10, 5-11, but he’s just tough, has a lot of heart, hit the big threes when you need him to,” says Smith.

“I’d say I’m legitimately 6-foot,” laughs Hubbard of his much-debated stature.

Hubbard picked up the game when he was even smaller than he is now – a lot smaller – playing ball across the DMV, as the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia hoops triangle is known.

“I started playing at the age of seven,” he says.

Hubbard’s parents were separated, and he spent his weekdays living with his mother in the Northeast section of Washington D.C., a quadrant of the Capitol where the stark contrast between haves and the have nots of the world is painfully apparent – the intersection between gentrification and drug deals and drive-bys. On the weekends, he would live with his father across the state line in Maryland.

“My dad got me involved in little mini basketball and I liked it ever since,” Hubbard says. “It was fun, I always had fun with the game, playing every day, working out. And it was just good from there. I started getting a better work ethic, my dad got me a trainer, and I started working out really seriously.”

Hubbard credits his parents’ commitment to co-parenting together and always putting his needs first despite their differences as the driving force for where he is today.

“My mother and my father, they put me in the positions on and off the court for me to be in the position that I am now. I’m so grateful to them that they are in my life, and they always wanted the best for me and they continue to want the best for me,” he says. “My parents weren’t together, but they always made sure that I came first, and they always communicated with one another to make sure that I had the best.”

And once Hubbard picked up the game, it took hold of him and never let go, something he credits to the hoops mecca that the DMV has become.

“We call it the DMV, DC and Maryland are obviously top 5 in the country in breeding basketball players. When KD (Kevin Durant) comes back home, he comes down here to play on weekends, Tywon Lawson — great players that are at the next level that we want to get to come down and show love to the city and it’s a great experience,” he says of playing against the super stars when they would return home. “Seeing those players who started from the bottom in the DC area and now they’re at the highest level of basketball.”

Playing for Montrose Christian, the same high school that Durant graduated from, Hubbard helped lead the Mustangs to the championship in the ESPNRise National High School Invitation and a No. 2 ranking in the Powerade Fab 50 National Basketball Rankings. His 80 made 3-pointers as a senior led the D.C. Metro area, and he was named a starter for the District All-Star team in the Capital Classic. It was during his days playing against some of the best high school players in the country and the nights spent on the black tops where opponents honed in on weaknesses like circling sharks, that Hubbard developed his mentality and mindset.

“It’s just about being tough,” he says. “Every coach that I’ve had always said I had that kind of toughness and swag about me, that I didn’t care about size, I was going to get it done on the court.”

But despite his play on the court, bigger colleges never came calling, and he accepted a scholarship from Loyola. The close proximity to his hometowns means that when he looks into the stands during Greyhounds home games, he always sees his father, mother, grandmother, aunt, cousins and a host of other family members.

“It’s really a great feeling to get to play in front of my family, and they have just been amazing in always supporting me,” he says.

However, before Hubbard could be playing in front of his family members, he had to grow a great deal to simply see the court. When he arrived on campus as a true freshman in 2011, Hubbard’s ego took another hit, when he learned he would be red-shirting the season. Something that he describes as “incredibly hard” to go through at the time, but something he is now thankful for.

“It absolutely was tough. I actually didn’t know coming in that I was going to red-shirt, but at the end of the day I knew it was the best decision for me,” he says.

“I wasn’t ready for the college experience, I had to do a lot of maturing on and off the court. I had to get my body to where it had to be, strength-wise.”

Three years later, Hubbard’s game and strength have grown by leaps and bounds. But according to those around him, Hubbard has grown even more.

“Obviously he loves to shoot the three, but he’s gotten better with his ball handling, his lateral movement,” says Smith. “He’s a leader of the team and a great one.”

As a redshirt freshman, Hubbard averaged 2.8 points and 9.7 minutes per game, shooting just .310 from the floor and .284 from downtown. As a sophomore his numbers jumped to 6.2 points and 19 minutes per game, while his shooting percentages climbed to .383 and .364, respectively. Through 12 games this year, Hubbard is averaging career bests of 12 points, 28.4 minutes, .380 from the floor and .414 from downtown.

“He has gotten better a lot defensively, he’s attacking the basket and I like where he is,” Smith says. “He’s gonna’ be one of the better players in the Patriot League.”

But according to Hubbard, his role on the team has grown beyond his raw production on the court.

“We have five freshmen, and it’s my job to encourage them to keep working hard. Some days they want to take the day off because they’re a little sore, but it’s my job to communicate to them to just keep grinding and keep fighting,” he says.

According to Hubbard, his goals for the rest of his career are to help the Greyhounds win 20 games, win the Patriot League and punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament and to “be the best teammate I can be.”

He’d love to play professionally somewhere after he graduates, but above all, “I just want to keep moving forward and growing every day,” he says, adding with a laugh, “Even if I’m still only 6-feet tall, I’ve grown a lot over my time here, and I think I can get even bigger still.”

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