Former BYU point guard Hunter Erickson didn’t have a firm destination in mind when he left the program last April.
Instead, after a second season of being a deep reserve, Erickson departed with an idea rather than a plan. Wherever he ended up, he needed a coaching staff that believed in him, he said. It was something, he felt, never really happened in Provo.
“They loved me and taught me a lot,” Erickson said of BYU. “At the end of the day, the role I saw for myself was just a little different than what I felt like they had planned. That leadership role and being the guy, making things happen on the offensive and defensive end — I felt like they didn’t quite see that for me. They saw me a little more as a role player.”
So the Provo native and Timpview High alum headed to Salt Lake Community College while he looked for a new home. The searched ended when he committed to the University of Utah for the 2023 season.
Admittingly, it is an odd path to grow up in the shadow of BYU, attend the school, and then land at rival Utah. But it is where Erickson is at now as he has seen a once-promising career stagnate in recent years.
“I wasn’t looking for any specific place or whatever,” he said. " I was looking for the head coach that loved me and loved my game. No matter how fast or slow it took, that is what I got from [Utah coach Craig Smith]. ... He was high on me and expressed it.”
Erickson appeared in eight games his freshman season and 19 as a sophomore. His first season at BYU was expected to be more of a wash as he came off his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mission. In his second season, however, he played just six minutes a game, and the situation became more of a concern.
Erickson was already playing behind senior guard Alex Barcello and one-year transfer Te’Jon Lucas. Looking down the road, the point guard position would remain crowded.
BYU was already expecting highly recruited guards like Dallin Hall and Richie Saunders to come in and compete for time. The transfer portal would also offer more options at guard at some point. Top recruit Collin Chandler would also come in two years.
Head coach Mark Pope has repeatedly said that he would have liked Hall and Saunders — who are logging significant minutes this year — to have more of a chance to sit this season. Presumably, if Erickson had stayed, he would have been playing more in 2022. But would that have been as a bridge rather than a true chance to earn the job long-term?
“I got a lot better at BYU in practices and the limited time I had,” Erickson said. “But for me to take that next step I needed to take that leadership role. I needed a little bit more responsibility and had those growing pains on the court and not just in practice.”
There was also the question of the fit in Pope’s system. Erickson was known in high school as a dynamic scorer who thrived in space. His senior season he averaged 22 points per game and hit 55 three-point attempts.
But in Erickson’s last season at BYU, the Cougars were one of the slower offenses in the country and played almost entirely in the halfcourt. That changed last offseason, where Pope adopted a more uptempo style of play that would be befitting in the Big 12. Likely it would have played more to Erickson’s strengths.
Erickson said he was aware the system was changing, but it still came down to opportunity.
“He planned on that,” Erickson said of the system change. “I feel like every team is trying that in this Golden State era. We talked about it. I feel like my role and responsibility wasn’t the same thing they had in mind.”
At SLCC this season, playing in a more open system, Erickson is averaging 12.6 points per game in nearly 30 minutes a night. He recorded a career-high 37 points in early November.
SLCC is one of the better junior colleges in the country, coming off a run to the JuCo national championship game last season.
“After the summer of last season, I just saw the opportunity at SLCC to be a leader and get the experience I didn’t quite get in my first two years,” he said. “Because of that, I needed to get that experience.”
After the season, Erickson will turn his attention to Utah. For now, though, he is trying to catch up on some of the in-game experience he says he missed last year.