Former UNC women’s basketball player finds passion in faith

By Cailey Howard

It was never going to be enough.

The roar of the fans in the stands could not drown out the doubt Hunter West felt about herself. As she looked down at her jersey, she still could not believe its letters read “U-N-C.”

But, just when she should feel like she had it all, she realized that she really had nothing if she did not have Jesus Christ.

Destined for greatness

In elementary school, she played basketball with boys that now attend well-known colleges and some who are currently in the NBA.

She went home every night with scuffed up knees and a couple of bruises – they did not cut her any slack just because she was a girl.

As she played alongside them, she eventually sent them home from school with a few battle wounds as well.

When she played against her older sisters in the evenings, she beat them every time. The sore losers would cry and spit insults at Hunter in the midst of a temper tantrum. However, not even they could deny that she was a star athlete.

Even her travel basketball coach looked her mom, Sheila West, in the eyes and told her that one day her middle school daughter would be a Division 1 athlete.

She was destined for greatness, pure and gracious in the eyes of all who knew her. Her radiance touched the lives of her community.

Living her faith

The freshman students at her high school knew her as their math tutor. She stepped up to assist them with their homework when their teachers and parents thought they were beyond help’s reach.

Her teachers frequently confided in her about their troubled students, and even the troubles of their own lives. They knew Hunter would always lend a listening ear and a word of encouragement.

The people of her church marveled at her renditions of their favorite hymns and contemporary worship songs. The beautiful melody of her voice carried throughout a spirit-filled sanctuary.

As their youngest and last child, her parents knew her as their baby. The mischievous toddler that once stole earrings from their local Belk was now a varsity athlete with a full-ride scholarship to a prestigious university.

The same young woman that was praying for her friends and leading her teammates in devotion before every game became a roaring lion on the basketball court. Other girls feared her, and other teams did their research on her, trying to identify her weaknesses so they could take her down.

Hunter loved the sport. More than that, she loved the way it made her look.

She enthralled the hearts and conversations of her community. The feeling she got from their love and praise was her high, and she continued to seek any outlet to access this drug.

Stranger in her own body

It was no surprise when Hunter received notice that she was the newest member of the UNC women’s basketball team.

She had it all.

The girl who came from the town where the accents were thick, the Bojangles biscuits were plentiful and there were church bells ringing on every street corner had finally arrived in the eyes of her community.

Still, somehow Hunter had never felt like so much of a stranger in her own body.

Opinions of who to be and how to do everything come from every corner when you are a Morehead-Cain Scholar and member of the UNC women’s basketball team.

As Hunter played at practice, insult after insult escaped the lips of verbally abusive assistant coaches. They took every opportunity to remind her that she was not fast enough and she did not know the plays well enough.

As her coaches yelled the many ways in which she needed to do better, her ultimate desire was for them to be in awe of her. She longed so deeply for them to take an interest in her basketball career.

The game she always loved was now the thing she hated the most.

Walking away from the game

Hunter went to basketball practice and was the competitive athlete she knew to be and went to the classroom and worked harder than her peers.

She was stewarding her identities well as an athlete and student but disconnected from her true self.

The desire to seek recognition from others had bound her in chains from which she could not seem to be free.

She finally felt freedom when she did the unthinkable – walked away from the greatest opportunity she had ever had.

The games, team meet and greets, and prestigious opportunities left Hunter empty and more unknown and unloved than she had ever been.

She searched for something to fill her heart and to give her a sense that someone was satisfied or pleased with her, but she could not find that in basketball.

When she unlaced the Jordan’s, Hunter began to focus more on her academic career. Just like any other Morehead-Cain Scholar, she fell into the hamster wheel of thinking that she was going to make a bigger difference in the world than her colleagues.

Finding freedom in Jesus

Her internship for the U.S. Senate in Washington made her feel important for a while. However, when COVID-19 broke out, she went home and once again realized the immense amount of joy she lacked.

For the first time in a while, she was out of the public eye.

Since a global pandemic isolated her from all of her other friends, she had a lot of extra time to spend with Jesus.

The words she was reading in her Bible began to not only tell a parable about a Jewish man who lived a crazy and sin-free life, but they also started to penetrate her heart and wreck her view of how she was supposed to live.

Hunter realized she had it all backward. She was working to seek recognition and approval from someone or something when she already had the love and adoration of the “king of the universe.”

The same God that created the galaxies knit Hunter together perfectly.

It was almost as if when Hunter realized this, she could hear the audible sound of chains breaking.

She saw that her purpose in life was to share with others the goodness of God, and she did not have to do this to seek his recognition. He already loved her so much that he sent his son Jesus to die for her.

When she came to this realization, there was a new peace about her.

She sought comfort in knowing that she would never be good enough in the eyes of others because she had a new confidence that a holy god fiercely loved her.

Edited by: Austin Bean