Wyoming men's basketball guard Hunter Maldonado yells in elation as the Cowboys beat Colorado State 84-78 in overtime Jan. 31 at Arena-Auditorium in Laramie. (University of Wyoming Athletics)

One of Wyoming men’s basketball’s stars from this past season’s run to the NCAA Tournament is keeping his options open to return to Laramie next season.

Fifth-year senior guard Hunter Maldonado announced on social media Tuesday morning that he would be testing the waters on the NBA Draft process while keeping his eligibility open for a sixth year with the Cowboys. If Maldonado were to return, it would be a major boost for UW coach Jeff Linder and his roster headed into the 2022-23 season.

The 6’7″ Coloradoan was one of the biggest pieces behind Wyoming’s at-large bid to March Madness, which was UW’s first appearance in the tournament since 2015 and only its second since 2002. He teamed up with sophomore center Graham Ike to be one of the highest-scoring duos in America, with Maldonado eventually being named to the All-Mountain West First Team this past season for his production.

Maldonado finished 2021-22 with career-high averages of 18.5 points and 6.3 assists per game to go along with 5.7 rebounds, eclipsing Sean Dent for the all-time career mark in assists in school history this past season. His 207 dishes this season was also best in the Mountain West, fourth nationally and the highest single-season mark in UW history.

Maldonado currently sits ninth on the all-time program scoring charts, needing 605 points to pass former All-American Fennis Dembo (2,311) for the No. 1 slot on the list. A return to Laramie would almost certainly mean Maldonado would break the all-time program record for games played as well, as he is currently just six games away from passing Alan Herndon’s mark of 133 games for the top slot.

The NCAA handed all players from the 2020-21 season an extra year of eligibility due to issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, meaning Maldonado would be able to return for a rare sixth season of college basketball if he chooses to do so. He had previously been awarded a medical redshirt after missing a large portion of the 2018-19 season due to injury.

Maldonado’s return would be massive for the Cowboys’ hopes of competing in the next Mountain West season as the Pokes have already seen some roster turnover since their season ended at the hands of Indiana in last week’s First Four of the NCAA Tournament.

Senior guard Drake Jeffries, one of the Cowboys’ leading 3-point shooters from this past season (40.9%), announced that he wouldn’t be returning and would instead be going pro. A trio of sparingly used players — sophomore forward John Grigsby, junior forward Eoin Nelson and sophomore guard Deng Dut — also all entered the transfer portal shortly after the season ended. Senior forward Hunter Thompson also has the option of returning for an extra year of eligibility if he so wishes, but the Pine Bluffs grad hasn’t publicly announced his intentions yet.

Cap City News Community Reporter