A Senior Sendoff: Maldonado, Thompson Cap Careers in Laramie
LARAMIE -- Thor: Ragnarok was No. 1 at the box office.
Gas prices hovered around $2.47 a gallon.
Post Malone's "Rockstar" topped the Billboard charts.
Maybe that's why Jeff Linder refers to Hunter Maldonado and Hunter Thompson as "dinosaurs?" In reality, that duo earned that unofficial title from Wyoming's third-year head coach for one simple reason.
"In this day and age, in this world, in the climate of college basketball, the word that describes those two don't doesn't exist anymore -- and that's loyalty," he said.
Monday night inside Laramie's Arena-Auditorium, Maldonado and Thompson, for the final time, will hear their names boom from the microphone of the public address announcer. The faithful will give them one more raucous round of applause. One last time, they will run down that tunnel onto the playing surface they have called home for the better part of a decade.
Goodbyes are never easy. Linder's tears, more than 72 hours ahead of the senior night festivities, speak volumes.
"Those two guys have been here for six years," he said. "They stuck through hard times and the good times. You know the expectations of this year, but those guys never wavered in terms of what their everyday was and that's why they're going to be successful at whatever they do in life. Because it doesn't matter what the circumstances are, their response is always going to be positive."
Maldonado's legacy is adding a new chapter with every outing.
The Colorado Springs product passed Sean Dent to become the program's all-time assists leader last February. This season, he steadily climbed Wyoming's scoring list, passing names like Reggie Slater, Josh Adams, Eric Leckner, Flynn Robinson and even his former teammate, Justin James.
Only Brandon Ewing (2,168) and Fennis Dembo (2,311) have found the bottom of the bucket more times than Maldonado.
He is just the fifth Cowboy in history to reach the 2,000-point mark. He also has 614 helpers and 789 boards. Maldonado is 11 rebounds away from becoming the first UW player to have 2,000 career points, 600 assists and 800 boards.
Forever humble, the super senior guard said those numbers don't really matter -- for now.
"Just a Cowboy -- Cowboy tough," Maldonado said in early February when asked what he wants to be remembered for when the dust settles. "... I was a Cowboy through and through and I think just that hard work that I put into the game, the love I had for it, it'll show both in the record board books and anyone that came to the game can see it.
"That's what I want my legacy to be, someone who was loyal and stayed around."
Linder agrees, wholeheartedly.
"Hunter Maldonado could have went and grabbed a bag of NIL money last year after averaging 20 and 10," Linder said. "He could have went and got $100,000 from who knows how many places in the country, but you know what, he knew that what's a lot more important than just going and grabbing money, and just the B.S. of college basketball, is a legacy. So he left it. He left a legacy at the University of Wyoming."
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Thompson's tenure on the high plains is a tad more complicated.
The 6-foot-10 Pine Bluffs native was viewed as the Cowboys' next paint roamer. That was never the case, though. It was never meant to be in the first place. The smooth-shooting big man was instead tasked with dragging the oppositions' five around the perimeter, forcing him to chase and wearing him down.
"'Everyone is probably like, get the heck out of here,'" Thompson joked after Friday night's loss at Colorado State. He also called himself the "illness guy," referring to his three bouts with mononucleosis in college. He said he'll tell you all about his friendship with Maldonado, "off the record."
That's the type of light-hearted, self-deprecating humor he brings to this group.
Not only did he have his moments on the floor, like sinking 22 points on seven made threes in a win at Fresno State in 2021 or holding Bulldogs' big Orlando Robinson to just five points in last year's likely NCAA-Tournament-preserving overtime period, Thompson last week was named to the College Sports Communicators Men’s Basketball Academic All-District Team.
"Thompson gets the brunt of it from all the people in Wyoming that wanted him to be something that he wasn't," an impassioned Linder said. "But, you know what he was, he's a f------ great human being. He's a great human being. I mean, a guy that I would let marry my daughter. He's a guy that stayed loyal when there's a lot of people behind the scenes ... people don't see on social media and all the stuff that he has to hear behind the scenes. That guy, you know what, he never wavered in his loyalty for the University of Wyoming."
What you might not know about Maldonado and Thompson is their close relationship off the court.
Roommates throughout much of their careers, Thompson has attempted to teach Maldonado how to fly fish. Maldonado has served the role of mentor. Both have been through the battles, whether that's injuries or ailments.
These two have been on an 8-win team and received an at-large bid to the Big Dance. They played through a worldwide pandemic and a coaching change. There have been high expectations and failures.
These two have been a constant in a program in flux.
Family. That's what these two are.
"We'll be friends forever. We're going to be brothers," Maldonado said. "We talked about getting back together all the time. It's going to be really hard to leave, but when I look back on it, just that relationship, it's going to be a happy feeling of that's where it started."
Thompson said one word comes to mind when he thinks of Maldonado -- tough.
"For him to have everything stacked against him, to be a 2,000-point scorer and all the accolades, he still shows up," Thompson said. "It's about the team. It's about everyone else. That's what I'll remember most."
Linder found himself in hot water with the fans earlier this season when he called them out for not filling the stands. Well, he's at it again. Only this time he's in hopes you will be in attendance to give these two a proper sendoff.
"I hope the people of the state of Wyoming, the University of Wyoming and the fans come out and honor (them)," he said. "Because, as I said, you're not going to be honoring guys like this very much anymore because the word loyalty just doesn't exist anymore in college basketball."
Wyoming (8-20) hosts Nevada (22-7, 12-4) tonight inside the Arena-Auditorium. Tipoff is slated for 7 p.m. and the game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.
Editor's note: Make sure to check out our gallery below of the careers of Hunter Maldonado and Hunter Thompson.