College basketball: Aird turns disappointment into success at UVU
Utah Valley basketball coach Dick Hunsaker sat in Ben Aird's living room, delivering a simple recruiting pitch.
"I want somebody like you to come play for me," Aird now recalls Hunsaker saying. "You'll have a chip on your shoulder to prove to everybody that they missed out on something great."
As a freshman at Bountiful, Aird had been one of the most highly recruited players in the state. Among the teams interested in Aird was Utah, and then-coach Ray Giacoletti offered him a scholarship.
Utah was where he wanted to play.
But injuries, including a torn patellar tendon, slowed Aird's development. After Giacoletti resigned, the new coaching regime at Utah backed off his recruitment. It became clear to Aird that he wasn't going to be a Ute.
"I jumped onto the scene, and I was being recruited by most of the schools in the country," Aird said. "That's super exciting. You're just a freshman in high school, so you don't know a lot, but you think to yourself, 'OK, I'm pretty good.' When things kind of died down, for anybody that would be discouraging."
Aird, who now in his junior season with the Wolverines, still draws motivation from the conversation in his living room with Hunsaker. He thinks about it in the weight room and visualizes it in the fourth quarter of close, physical games.
"I've never forgotten that," Aird said. "It kind of forces you to play with that chip on your shoulder, to say, 'Hey, you guys made the wrong decision.'"
Whether Utah would have been better off if it had gotten Aird on campus never will be known. But what is certain is that Aird has turned into a force for the Wolverines.
The 6-foot-9 center came into the week averaging 14.2 points and nine rebounds per game and has been one of the most productive big men in the Summit League.
Seeing Aird accomplish so much has been rewarding for Hunsaker. He, too, remembers sitting in Aird's living room during the big man's recruitment. He saw a boy hurting from the realization that a team that once had pushed to get him on campus no longer thought he was good enough.
"Ben's an exceptional young man," Hunsaker said. "It hurt me for him to go through that. There's a tremendous amount of disappointment that went in that. I've always felt a personal investment in Ben because I want him to be the best big man in the state."
Time has healed Aird's disappointment. He is at home with the Wolverines and feels fortunate to play under Hunsaker, who, Aird says, has passed onto him a deep understanding of the game.
Looking back, Aird's thankful for the recruiting process he went through with Utah. He learned from it. He can see now that it helped him grow up.
"It's something where you can't take things for granted," he said. "You have to continually work hard for anything in life if you want to be successful."