Chris Hunter can't predict what his emotions will be Thursday night when he plays in his first professional basketball game in nearly two years.
Hunter last played in a regular-season game with the Mad Ants in early January 2012 and has missed most of two years with a pair of Achilles injuries. He is expected to be in uniform for the Ants against Iowa at 7 p.m. Thursday at Memorial Coliseum.
“It's been a long time coming for me and I've been through a lot physically and mentally as far as coming back to play,” Hunter said Wednesday after practice at Sport One Fieldhouse. “It feels good to be out here. I don't know if I'm excited. I don't know what my emotions are coming back. It's kind of businesslike, go back out and take care of business.”
Providing there are not complications in adding him to the active roster, the 6-foot-11 Hunter will be in the starting lineup at center for his return to the court, Mad Ants coach Conner Henry said.
“I think he'd be better warming up and playing right away and seeing if he can give us a good four minutes, maybe more, and see how it goes,” Henry said.
Hunter, 29, who played at the University of Michigan, had one of the most productive seasons in the Mad Ants' brief history in 2008-09, averaging 19.3 points and 9.4 rebounds. The performance led to NBA Development League all-star status and a full-time spot with the Golden State Warriors.
Over the course of the last two years, he's fought the devastating injuries. He played four games with the Mad Ants in 2011-12. He suffered his second Achilles injury while playing with the Los Angeles Clippers summer league team in 2012.
“Early on, those doubts cross your mind about whether you'll be able to get back and how your body will feel,” Hunter said. “I started to get into rehab stuff and healing and I was able to move and do things, so my confidence grew. I wanted to be as patient and take it as slow as possible and try to be as strong as I could. There's still a lot of work to do, but I'm feeling good now.”
Henry said he has seen steady progress from Hunter since the start of training camp.
“I think he's gotten incrementally better over the last month,” Henry said.
There have been times when Henry said he thought Hunter was holding back from going all out, perhaps because of concerns about suffering another injury. Henry said he knows those doubts because he had to deal with knee and back injuries during his playing career. But there has never been any question about Hunter's desire to return to the game.
“He stuck with it,” Henry said. “He wants to be here. He wants to do well. He wants to get back to his old form. Now I think it's time to throw him out there and give him the opportunity to kind of find his way.”
The biggest battle, Hunter said, has been regaining his conditioning in full-court game-style situations.
“I'm feeling good,” he said. “I think everything went as I thought it would go. I worked my way back from so many battles with aches and pains from just getting back in shape and playing. My conditioning has been pretty good. I'm ready to go back out there and get my feet wet.
“This past week, I've been able to play for extended periods of five-on-five for five or six minutes,” Hunter said. “I feel pretty good about it. I'll try to stay businesslike. I don't know if I'm excited, anxious or nervous.”