The first sign of just how much former Gateway High School star Dominique Hunter would mean to this season’s San Francisco State women’s basketball team came before the Gators tipped off in their first game.
The less-than-subtle hint came on the cover of the team’s media guide, where the smiling 6-foot-1 senior shared the spotlight alone with coach Joaquin Wallace in the forefront, while a series of three cascading photos of Hunter with a purple tint loomed in the background.
As the lone senior on a team that lost seven seniors to graduation last year, Hunter has been a leader on both ends of the court, averaging team-highs with 10.2 points, 11 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game.
“It’s hard, because I’m the only upperclassman, but I take the leadership role willingly, and I knew that coming into [this season],” Hunter said. “It’s just difficult because there are a ton of freshmen and they don’t know anything about anything. It takes a lot of patience.”
Despite Hunter’s solid play, the Gators have struggled mightily this season, currently holding a 1-13 overall record. Short of a miraculous run, the Gators will miss the playoffs after a string of three consecutive seasons in the postseason.
“She’s been instrumental in making the program nationally recognized,” Wallace said. “She’s been here through the success, but now she’s in the cycle on the down end, and it’s difficult for her. She’s handling it very well, though, because at the end of the day she knows she’s laying the foundation for the future.”
Even though her basketball career may be ending in a less than ideal fashion, her path to this point was an unlikely one.
Hunter didn’t even play organized basketball until eighth grade, when she entered the Mission Rec program run by legendary coach Oscar Jiminez, who died in December.
Even in those early days, coaches saw talent and promise, although it was in raw form.
“When I first started playing, the one thing I was good at was blocking shots,” Hunter said. “Oscar had a nickname for me — The Eraser — and I think that set a tone for me. That’s what I do, block shots. From then to now, it’s still part of my identity.”
It was that identity that carried her through a standout career at Gateway, where she averaged 6.7 blocks per game as a sophomore, six as a junior and 4.6 as a senior.
“In her junior and senior years, we were a little more balanced, but as a sophomore, she came to realize that she could dominate,” said then-Gateway coach Mike Coffino, who coached Hunter in her sophomore, junior and senior years, and now coaches the boys’ program at Marin Academy in San Rafael. “She had an impact on the game that was different from other players.”
Although her sophomore year was her best statistically at Gateway (17.7 points per game, 11.6 rebounds), during her senior year in 2006-2007, the Gators went 27-3 including a 12-0 record in the inaugural Bay Counties League Central season and a 30-point win over International in the league championship game.
“The team was so dominant in the league, we were given a lot of flack for it because of the margins [of victory],” Coffino said. “She was a big part of that. She ruled the inside. When she walked on the floor, the players and coaches began not just to respect her, but to fear her.”
Gateway would fall to eventual state champion Branson in the CIF-North Coast Section Division V semifinals that season, but the run still stands as the best girls’ basketball season in school history.
The only college coach that came to see her in her senior season was Wallace, and her trust in him, coupled with a desire to stay in close proximity to her tight-knit family, led to her decision to enroll at SF State.
“I just wanted to play basketball,” Hunter said. “I didn’t care if it was [Division I]. I just didn’t want to have to walk on or redshirt, I wanted to start playing immediately.”
She didn’t start immediately for SF State, but it certainly didn’t take her long.
“Her first game was against Santa Clara,” Wallace said. “She played two minutes and she was not happy about that at all. Then in her second game she got about 10, 12 minutes. When I told her she was going to start before the Pacific game, she said ‘That’s what I’ve been waiting for coach.’”
In just her third collegiate game, against a Division I program in University of the Pacific, Hunter had 10 points and six rebounds as the Gators upset the Tigers on the road.
Since then, she has not relinquished her starting center spot, a role she has taken pride in fulfilling, and by season’s end she could be the only player in school history to finish with 1,000 points, 700 rebounds and 200 blocks.
Even though her playing career is winding down, she’s already looking ahead to graduate school, after she will become the first member of her family to get a college degree, when she graduates from the Business program in the spring.
“It’s a tremendous accomplishment,” Hunter said. “To do this for my family is just crazy. It’s going to be one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.”
For Wallace and the Gators, saying goodbye to Hunter, a cornerstone of the program for so long, will be especially difficult.
“Each year it’s tough, but with Dom it’s a little different,” Wallace said. “She’s the first kid I ever did a home visit with. I love her like she’s my own. It shows that local kids can do well here. She can walk out of her as one of the best players to ever play at the school.”
Hunter’s high school coach Coffino, is much more succinct in his evaluation of Hunter, but just as effective.
“The world needs more Dominique Hunters,” Coffino said.
Beyond Preps is a feature that catches up with former San Francisco prep athletes. Preps sports coverage provided in partnership by The San Francisco Examiner and www.SanFranPreps.com