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Coach, brother reflect on Iowa State freshman's journey to the big stage

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Posted at 8:44 PM, Mar 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-20 23:26:14-04

One of the Badger's biggest threats to a Sweet 16 run was a kid from Racine who now plays point guard at Iowa State.

"He loves basketball. There are a lot of people that like it. He loves it," said Nick Bennett, Tyrese Hunter's high school coach.

Hunter didn't score 23 against Wisconsin like he did in the Cyclone's opening round win over LSU, but he made two critical free throws in the closing minutes to help secure State's win.

Hunter is used to playing on a big stage and overcoming adversity.

Last year, with St. Catherine's in Racine, he helped lead his team to a Wisconsin state title.

There's a video of the players in the locker room after their win. Coach Bennett gets a Gatorade soaking.

"I like those moments when it's just me and the team," said Bennett. "You'll see Tyrese with his shirt off, jumping all around [in the locker room]."

Bennett, while he loved coaching Hunter, said he won't play him — again.

"He tried to dunk on me," said Bennett. "We laugh about it now, but I remember in the moment, like, [the players] all had this look: 'Tyrese almost just dunked on coach. I'm too old for this stuff."

It takes a fearless kid to try to put his high school coach on a poster. But Tyrese is motivated in way most of us will never understand.

"I think he picked up the basketball when he lost his parents," said Brian Hunter, Tyrese's big brother. "That kind of was what helped him get through a lot of the pain he was feeling at the time."

Hunter lost his father, Brian Sr., when he was six. When he was 13, his mother, Ida, also died.

Both his grandmother and brother, Brian, stepped in to raise him, and Tyrese eventually moved into Brian's home.

"Basketball definitely helped save him in sort of a way," said Brian.

Brian Hunter's living room is full of watercolor art painted by his mother-in-law. One painting is of Tyrese when he's about 13. It was painted not long after he moved in with his brother.

There's also a portrait of Tyrese's father, Brian Sr.

"They've kind of got the same smile," said Brian about his little brother and father.

Ahead of Sunday's game against Wisconsin, Brian said his brother wouldn't have any trouble dealing with the pressure of playing back home.

"He don't lack confidence in himself and his abilities," said Brian. "He always believes in himself and the work that he puts in."

Tyrese played for his team and a win.

But he also played for a lot of folks in his native Racine. He played for his friends, his family, his grandmother and his father.

Brian Sr. died 12 years ago this Sunday, the same day his son helped State advance to the Sweet 16.

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