The rout was on and University of Tennessee-Martin coach Bret Campbell’s best player was enjoying a well-deserved rest when someone came up to Campbell and whispered in his ear.
Lester Hudson was off the bench and back in the game a moment later.
“OK, Lester,” Campbell, now an assistant at Austin Peay, remembers telling him. “You’ve got to get a steal.”
Hudson ripped the ball away from a dribbler at half court on the next play.
That’s how Hudson made college basketball history Nov. 13, 2007, in Martin, Tenn. His line in a blowout win — 25 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and 10 steals — remains the only quadruple-double by a Division I college basketball player.
It’s a night Hudson still considers his best basketball memory, but it’s not the only thing by which he wants to be remembered. So when Hudson’s new coach called his number Wednesday night at EnergySolutions Arena, the 29-year-old journeyman was waiting.
“He knows the moment,” Utah Jazz coach Ty Corbin said. “He understood when he got a chance on the floor, he was going to be ready to play.”
When the Jazz’s rookie point guard, Trey Burke, broke his finger last week, requiring surgery that will keep him out for several weeks, former Iona star Scott Machado looked to be the apparent beneficiary. Corbin instead called first for Hudson off the bench — and the journeyman’s play kept Machado in warmups for the rest of the night.
Hudson scored nine points and dished out a pair of assists in a 99-92 loss to Portland. He played 27 minutes and closed out the game with Utah’s first unit. He also added two steals and a block of former Jazz guard Wesley Matthews.
“He made some shots for us early, but I thought he did a good job defensively,” Corbin said after the game. “Staying into guys’ bodies, got his hands on a lot of balls. He made his shots when he had shots, and I thought his energy and the way he advanced the ball in transition was good.”
Hudson had not made it off Corbin’s bench in the team’s previous three preseason games.
Campbell sent his former player a text message encouraging him to stay ready before Wednesday’s game. Patience, after all, had paid off for Hudson earlier in his career.
Hudson grew up in Memphis, Tenn., and only played a year of high school ball.
“I was getting cut a lot, so I wasn’t a big fan of basketball,” he said.
Hudson didn’t make his high school team until a coach saw him playing in the gym and offered him a special tryout.
After that, academics were an issue. He didn’t earn his GED until he enrolled at Southwest Tennessee Community College. There, Campbell said, Hudson made grades but did not have the core classes he needed to play right away at UT-Martin. Hudson instead sat out a season — to the benefit of his game.
“He was always a good scorer, but not a great shooter,” Campbell said. “That year, just sitting out really developed his outside shot. He was consistently in the gym first thing in the morning, back in the afternoon and back at night.”
Hudson went from averaging 16 points a night at the junior college level to 26.6 points a game for the Skyhawks.
Hudson was drafted by the Boston Celtics in the second round of the 2009 draft. Since then, Hudson has spent most of his time in either the D-League or China. But the 6-foot-3 guard has shown flashes of ability in short NBA stints. Hudson made a splash in Cleveland in April 2012, averaging 12 points a game over a pair of 10-day contracts. His contract, however, was not renewed.
“I’m still shocked that he has not really landed with somebody who has given him minutes,” Campbell said. “Because when he finally gets comfortable and gets minutes, he’s going to produce.”
As training camps rolled around this season, Hudson was visiting friends in Memphis, without a camp invite.
“I thought it was over,” he said. “But [the Jazz] called me the last minute.”
A chance to stick with an NBA team is Hudson’s dream after spending last season overseas. Jazz point guard John Lucas III went head to head with Hudson a number of times in China, and the two players have talked often in training camp about their time there — and their common motivation.
“It makes you hungry,” Lucas said. “When you get that opportunity to come here, that’s when you have to step up. You don’t want to go back overseas. You don’t want to go to the D-League. You try to make it here. … He’s coming to practice every day, playing his butt off. His chance came [Wednesday], and he made the most of it.”
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