Only a 'matter of time' for Hobson

LAS VEGAS -- Darington Hobson first started hearing the MVP chants a little more than two weeks ago after he blocked a shot to seal a Mountain West regular-season title for New Mexico.

He skyed high to meet a BYU player at the rim, screamed through his red mouthpiece as he and a teammate rolled around hugging on the floor, and eventually snagged the MWC's player of the year award.

Hobson, who leads the No. 3-seeded Lobos in points, rebounds and assists, had to take a circuitous route to find a home in Albuquerque. Yet the basketball vagabond, who by age 22 had attended five high schools and a junior college, said he could have seen all this coming.

"Yeah. Of course," Hobson said. "I never doubted my talents. I always knew I could play at this level. I always knew I was capable of doing this at this level. It was just a matter of time."

The 6-foot-7 left-handed point-forward is graceful on the court as he averages 16.2 points, 9.2 rebounds and 4.6 assists. The junior in his first season at UNM is expected to finish the season as the first player in school history to lead his team in all three categories.

"Even when he's not doing something, he's creating for others just by being on the floor," Lobos coach Steve Alford said. "He makes everybody else around him better.

"Where he's come in the last three months, just with his maturity as a basketball player, has been amazing. And we wouldn't be in the position we're in right now without Darington Hobson maturing and growing as a player and as a person over the last three months."

Hobson's arrival at UNM was a longer and bumpier ride than expected. He originally signed on with the Lobos coming out of high school, but couldn't slash his way past the NCAA Clearinghouse -- not with his history of hop-scotching across the country from prep school to prep school, with a mess of documentation to boot.

The Las Vegas native grew up playing guard even after experiencing a 6-inch growth spurt shortly before high school, but the tool he lacked at the time was that he "just wasn't into school," according to his father, Reggie Hobson.

So Darington moved to Houston, where his mom lived, to get a fresh start at a charter school and ultimately picked up the nickname "Butta" while playing pick-up at the park.

"He's tall and light-skinned, and his game is real smooth," explained Reggie, a former football player at UNLV. "He was like a tall stick of butter. Long and skinny."

Darington then moved to Southern California with the intention of going to powerhouse Stoneridge Prep, but he quickly jumped along with his coach and teammates to a different school at Calvary Christian.

And then he moved to Decatur (Ill.) Christian for one final year of prep school, where coach Alan Huss finally plopped an ACT study guide on Hobson's bed.

"It was a concept that had never registered with him," said Huss, whose family hosted Hobson and had him living in the basement. "He looked at me like I was crazy.

"He would listen to whoever. Rather than face adversity head-on, he would run and start over. He had been told so many things by so many people. There were a lot of enablers. We told him he had to do things he didn’t want to do."

Still, the qualifying test score wasn't enough to allow Hobson to play for New Mexico because he had taken courses at too many academically suspect schools.

And then, for two years, he swallowed his pride and went to the College of Eastern Utah and said he matured there the most under the direction of coach Chris Craig, who played at UTEP.

"He held me accountable for everything," Hobson said.

On the day Hobson finally checked into his dorm room at UNM, he broke down.

"In junior college, you watch this time of the year," Hobson said. "You always wished that you were there and playing on that level. When I finally got there, I just sat in my room and just thanked God and cried for a couple of hours because I finally got to the place where I always wanted to get.

"There were times I never thought I'd get there."

Hobson has flourished under Alford, who also recruited him at Iowa. With a trio of playmakers, including forward Roman Martinez and guard Dairese Gary, the Lobos are 29-4 and have a top-10 national ranking after their young team was picked in the preseason to finish fifth in the Mountain West. On Thursday, the Lobos will begin NCAA play against Montana in San Jose, Calif.

While he remains an emotional player who struts when things are going right but has also been whistled for technical fouls, Hobson said he's been working on containing himself.

"He's a laid-back true type of guy," Reggie said. "The chest-pounding and all, that's just how he gets himself going."

During a 28-point, 15-rebound performance in last week's conference tournament win against Air Force that marked his 13th double-double, the MVP chants for Hobson could be heard at his hometown's Thomas & Mack Center, just as if it were The Pit.

He's also gotten the attention of NBA scouts and admittedly feels the tug of possibly leaving once again, despite loving his time as a Lobo.

"That's up to Darington," Reggie said.

So Darington, are you coming back next year?

"I don't know," he said during the MWC tournament. "I won't know until after the season. I'll try to get some feedback and see what happens.

"It all depends on what people are saying. I don't know. I don't focus into that right now."

Smooth move.