‘He was going to do big things here and he has’
LARAMIE -- Sean Dent didn't figure his career assist record was in jeopardy anytime soon.
In fact, he called his former Wyoming teammate, Fennis Dembo, a few years ago and the two joked about it.
It was safe for a number of reasons.
One, the next closest player on the list, Brandon Ewing, trails Dent by 31. Secondly, UW hasn't had a true four-year point guard since Justin James was running the show from 2016-19. He fell 159 helpers short.
Before this season started, Hunter Maldonado hadn't even cracked the school's Top 10 in that category.
Now, he's just four assists away from breaking Dent's mark of 502.
"It's pretty exciting to see," Dent said. "Hunter is such a good guy, too, and he's been through a lot."
Maldonado already eclipsed Dent's single-season assist record (183 in 1986-87) in the second-to-last game of the regular season. He dished out seven of those in a 64-57 road loss at UNLV. In the finale, the redshirt junior added eight more. That new record now sits at 192.
It's likely to increase by even more when the Cowboys take on the Rebels Thursday in the team's first game of the Mountain West Tournament in Las Vegas.
Dent will be the first to admit, he got nervous when Ewing was tearing up the league from 2006-09. Maldonado, he said, came out of left field. Mainly because he was never a point guard. That's a new role this year, given to him by head coach Jeff Linder.
That, according to Dent, makes it all the more impressive.
"I mean, you're taking a guy who's been on the wing and you are putting him at point guard," he said. "Coach Linder has a lot of trust in him making that move. I mean, that's hard to do, especially at 6-foot7."
Dent, who stands just 6-foot, orchestrated of some of the best offensive teams in UW history. From 1983-88, he had the luxury of playing floor general alongside guys like Eric Leckner, Reggie Fox, Turk Boyd, Willie Jones, Jon Sommers, and of course, the program's all-time leading scorer, Dembo.
What makes a good assist man?
Dent said just re-read those names above.
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Maldonado has put the ball in the hands of scorers like Graham Ike, Drake Jeffries, Xavier DuSell and others. He backs down the opposition's smaller guard, often drawing a double team. When that does happen -- someone is open.
"It's getting the ball to the right people at the right time," Dent said, simply. "That's what makes people move on the court. You see Jeffries and DuSell, they are moving to get a shot because they know if they get open, Hunter is going to get it to them. That's fun to watch."
Maldonado is also on the verge of shattering Maurice Alexander's assist-average record of 4.5 per game. The Colorado Springs native is pumping out 6.4 an outing. Dent owned the single-season mark with 5.5. That one is toast, too.
Records, Dent said, are made to be broken.
The assist record that is.
The man who will forever be referred to by Wyoming fans as "The Prince of Pilfer" still owns the top mark for steals in a Cowboys uniform with 249. The next closest is Dembo's 176.
That one is safe and sound and could be forever.
"It's a big thing to have a record," Dent said. "So, that's why there is one record that I really enjoy -- that's the steals record. That's the one that I really hold dear is that record."
With the Cowboys knocking on the door of a potential NCAA Tournament berth, Dent said he now wants to see Maldonado showcase some of that success on the nation's biggest stage.
He feels this UW team has the goods to make a run, too.
He would know best.
Dent played in an NIT final and made back-to-back appearances in the Big Dance, including a run to the Sweet 16 during his junior season. Wyoming also claimed two consecutive conference tournament championships.
"I think they have the style," he said. "You know, in the NCAA Tournament, you have a style. Everything slows down. They've been playing that style all year long. I do know they have a big one Thursday. That's going to be a big game against UNLV."
Dent would know a little something about that, too.
Wyoming's Cinderella run in '87 came to an end at the hands of the top-ranked Runnin' Rebels inside Seattle's Kingdome. Armen Gilliam, Freddie Banks and Gerald Paddio helped lead UNLV to the Final Four after knocking off the Cowboys, 92-78.
"You know it. You absolutely know it," Dent joked about still having some bad feelings toward the Rebels. "At that time, they were the No. 1 team in the country."
No matter what happens in Las Vegas and beyond, Dent said the Cowboys have had a good one in Maldonado.
"He's a very good kid," he said. "He was going to do big things here and he has. It's been really nice to see him grow."
* Wyoming's all-time assist leaders
Sean Dent 502
Hunter Maldonado 498
Brandon Ewing 471
Jay Straight 453
Chris McMillian 434
Fennis Dembo 410
Josh Adams 398
Mike Jackson 357
Brad Jones 351
JayDee Luster 344
Justin James 343
* Wyoming's all-time steals leaders
Sean Dent 249
Fennis Dembo 176
Brandon Ewing 161
LaDrell Whitehead 150
Josh Adams 144
Hunter Maldonado 143
Larry Nance Jr. 141
Josh Davis 140
Chris McMillian 136
Jay Straight 126
Justin James 121