His academic troubles behind him, little known Lester Hudson is putting up big numbers for Tennessee-Martin
By Bill Trocchi
When Tennessee-martin guard Lester Hudson had the first quadruple double in NCAA Division I history earlier this season, he was disappointed the feat only got a brief mention on SportsCenter. After all, "Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson never did it," Hudson says.
Granted, they generally faced tougher competition than Division II Central Baptist, against whom Hudson had his 25-point, 12-rebound, 10-assist, 10-steal performance on Nov. 15, but the 6' 3" junior is no one-shot wonder. Hudson has also shone against big-time foes Memphis (35 points and 10 rebounds), Mississippi State (27 points, 11 rebounds) and Vanderbilt (36 points). At week's end he was second in the nation in scoring, averaging 26.9 points, and was tied for second in steals (3.4 a game). Not bad for a guy who played just one year at Memphis's Central High because of academic troubles that almost derailed his career entirely.
Now 23, Hudson was raised in a "distracted environment in a rough neighborhood," according to Central High coach Andre Applewhite. When he did show up at school, Hudson says, he would "just go to the gym and play basketball." After Applewhite spotted him in gym class his sophomore year scoring at will against varsity players, the coach pulled Hudson aside and persuaded him to improve his schoolwork and come out for the team.
Hudson made his debut as a junior, and he averaged double figures in points and rebounds, but he turned 19 the next summer, making him too old to play his senior season. Again his grades suffered, and he left school without a diploma.
Applewhite, however, contacted Verties Sails, his former coach at Southwest Tennessee Community College, and recommended Hudson to him. "Lester was streetwise, but not book smart," Sails says. "He had never sat down and done the work." Hudson earned his GED in his first semester at Southwest, and then went on to play two seasons for the Saluqis, averaging 18.0 points his second year. He drew recruiting interest from Colorado, USC, Michigan State, Illinois and Tennessee, but his poor grades led him to sign as a Prop 48 with UT-Martin, where he sat out last season.
With renewed discipline in the classroom, Hudson is now carrying a 2.5 GPA, and on the court he's earning praise for his unselfishness. "If he comes down on the fast break and the right play is to give it up, he does so willingly," says Vanderbilt coach Kevin Stallings. His own coach, Bret Campbell, loves Hudson's tenacity at the defensive end, where he pounces on any loose ball or lazy pass. Campbell, who coached NBA players Trenton Hassell and Bubba Wells as an assistant at Austin Peay, says Hudson is "a more complete player than either of them." In a 61-43 win at Samford on Jan. 24, Hudson showcased his versatility on one second-half play. He easily penetrated on a two-on-two fast break, only to have his shot spin out. He snatched up the loose ball, dribbled to the corner and dropped in a fadeaway three-pointer with a defender in his face. The basket iced the game for the improving Skyhawks (10-12), who have already exceeded last year's win total of eight.
See Lester Hudson's story in the latest issue of Sports Illustrated.