When Darington Hobson first arrived on campus at New Mexico on July 1 for summer school, he settled in his room and was immediately overcome with emotion, proceeding to break down and cry for nearly two hours.
“I won’t lie. I wasn’t sure I’d ever make it here,” said the well-traveled Hobson. “Not with everything I’d been through.” Even Hobson has difficulty remembering the exact timeline that led to his arrival in Albuquerque.
Five years, five different schools.
It began with a sense of normalcy as a freshman at Western High in Las Vegas before relocating with his mother to Houston at Alief Hastings. His junior season was spent across town at a program called Gulf Shores Academy as a backup to future pro Gerald Green. Then he jettisoned off to Calvary Baptist Christian in California for his senior year, and after failing to qualify, he landed at Decatur Christian for a year of prep school in Illinois.
“It was a journey,” Hobson said.
One that didn’t end after a year in the prep ranks, either.
No one along the way had educated Hobson about the SAT or ACT until he arrived at Decatur.
“I never took it, and I didn’t even know what it was,” Hobson said. “No one told me. I heard about it, but no one ever told me I needed it to get into college.”
Hobson and former Decatur coach Alan Huss put in endless hours together cramming for the standardized tests, and Hobson achieved the required score on his first attempt in order to meet NCAA requirements to play Division I basketball.
It looked as if Hobson’s dream was set to become a reality — except for the fact that his constant movement would wind up costing him.
The NCAA wanted all sorts of documentation from each of Hobson’s stops, and Huss said that they were unable to gather the necessary information from Calvary Baptist Christian.
“It was probably the best thing that ever happened to him,” Huss said.
“It definitely was looking back on it,” Hobson agreed.
But it surely didn’t seem that way when Hobson was forced to go the junior college route.
“That was the low point in my life,” Hobson admitted. “I did all that to avoid going to junior college, and at the end of the day, I had to go anyways.”
For two seasons.
It was the first time he had stayed in the same spot for more than a year since entering high school.
“A lot of people didn’t think I’d make it,” Hobson said.
For good reason. Look at his track record.
“I had to finish what I started,” said Hobson, who earned his associates degree and graduated with a 3.0 GPA. “I had to prove people wrong.”
But the tough love instilled by Eastern Utah coach Chris Craig (he played for Billy Gillispie at UTEP) prepared Hobson for the Division I ranks, where he’s wasted no time making an impact.
Even after the road loss at San Diego State on Tuesday night, New Mexico is 14-2 and among the nation’s top 25 teams.
The Lobos are led by the ultimate journeyman.
Hobson ranks first in the team in scoring (16.5), rebounding (8.1) and assists (4.4) — a trifecta that has never been accomplished in the history of the program.
“He’s as versatile as any player in the country,” said New Mexico associate head coach Craig Neal, who had an eight-year pro career and was also an NBA assistant coach. “And he’s got a great basketball IQ.”
Few ever questioned the long and versatile 6-foot-7, 210-pound Hobson’s natural ability, but it was his instability that scared off more than a few college coaches.
“I was listening to a lot of people, different people who were telling me to go to different schools,” Hobson said. “And I listened to them.”
Changing schools, playing musical chairs with AAU programs and also reneging on his college destination. “He’s a great kid, and all he ever needed was consistency,” Huss said. “He was just never able to get it in high school or in AAU.”
“It was no one’s fault but mine,” Hobson added.
Hobson committed to a Wyoming program that was among the first to show legitimate interest back in November of 2005 while he was at Calvary Baptist.
A few months later, Hobson re-opened his recruitment and wound up giving another verbal pledge, this time to Pepperdine while he was at Decatur due to his relationship with Waves assistant Ryan Miller.
Miller left Pepperdine for New Mexico, and Hobson once again had a change of heart. He fielded interest from numerous big-time programs — including Kansas — but most of them had backed off due to his reputation and academic concerns.
“It was for good reason,” Hobson said.
However, Miller never wavered on his commitment to recruit Hobson, who he knew would be a major coup whether it was at Pepperdine or New Mexico.
“He trusted Ryan Miller,” Huss said. “And after what Darington’s been through, there aren’t too many people he trusts.”
Although Hobson has started to receive national notoriety — and also the attention of NBA execs — for his play thus far, he is also able to dissect his situation with far more perspective after what he has endured.
“Here we get tons of gear, fly everywhere and stay in nice hotels. For the last few years, we drove everywhere, stayed at low-budget hotels and ate McDonald’s for lunch and dinner,” he added. “I’ve learned not to take anything for granted from my time in junior college.”
“I’m going to play with a chip on my shoulder,” Hobson said. “I have a lot to prove in two years.”
It’s only been 16 games, and Hobson has already made his point.