Hudson poured in a game-high 34 points in the Ohio Valley Conference semifinals against Morehead State, but the rest of the Skyhawks managed only 21 more in a 63-55, season-ending defeat. There would be no Big Dance for UTM, and thus no national stage on which its explosive backcourt scoring force could showcase his skills.
And so, despite his impressive hoops resume - including an average of 25.7 points per game (second best in the nation in Division-I), conference Player of the Year honors and honorable mention as an AP All-American - Hudson ended up sitting through 57 picks in the 2009 NBA Draft before hearing the Boston Celtics call his name with the third-to-last selection.
It mattered little that he had torched Final Four power Memphis for 35 points, or recorded the first quadruple double (25 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists and 10 steals ) ever by a Division-I men's player. Hudson's gaudy statistics couldn't hide a handful of glaring facts: Pre-draft camp measurements reportedly revealed that he is at least three inches shorter than his listed height on 6-foot-3; he played only two seasons of low-D-I college ball; he flunked out of high school with only a single varsity letter to his credit.
The diminutive dynamo with the penchant for burying deep threes was just that - a long shot - to ever make it in the NBA. But that didn't stop Celtics GM Danny Ainge from pulling the trigger on Hudson, a move that makes sense given Boston's team makeup and recent history of tucking draft projects into its pocket.
The Celtics' first-round draft pick in 2008, J.R. Giddens, scored all of four points in eight total minutes of floor time last season. Top-20 selection Gerald Green was similarly coddled in 2005, when he averaged just over five points per game in very limited action. Just two seasons removed from their 17th world championship, the Celtics' veteran core still has a window - albeit a rapidly closing one - through which to snatch another title without needing to rely on immediate help from the draft.
But Hudson may force his way into the team's plans regardless. His wingspan of 81 inches is somewhat remarkable for a player his size, and allows him to disrupt passing lanes and cause turnovers on defense - clearly ways to earn minutes from C's head coach Doc Rivers. That freakish reach also helps Hudson elevate his shot over taller defenders, meaning that his .372 shooting percentage from three-point range with UTM should translate well to the pro game in spite of his lack of height.
But therein lies the rub: Hudson, at a whisker under six feet tall, simply must play point guard in the NBA. He would get eaten alive at the two by the likes of Michael Redd and Marquis Daniels (both 6-foot-6), let alone any swingmen he got switched onto. Sure, his outstanding "length" has him theoretically playing at 6-foot-9, but reality in the pros equates to jumpers and dunks over guys who don't truly measure up to the competition.
Hudson put up assist and steal numbers (4.4 and 2.6 per game, respectively) in line with what you'd expect from a college guard who was his team's only real scoring option, and those stats suggest the skills necessary to play the point in the NBA. He has apparently committed hard to improving his handle, telling thedraftreview.com that "a normal day ... is constant workout drills and practice ballhandling." Hudson also said that he prides himself on "staying coachable," a good sign for an already-established scorer who needs to develop in other areas.
Think about it this way: Hudson is probably already a more complete player than Celtic guard Eddie House, and is almost as tall. He led the Skyhawks in rebounding as a junior, from the backcourt no less. Scouting services rave about him; collegehoops.net called him "physically superior to most prospects," with better "offensive diversity." Legend has it that he used to school varsity starters from Memphis in area pickup games during the off-season, and was only held back from similar collegiate success by his lack of academic discipline.
He is now in a situation where his only tests will come on the hardwood. He may be the undersized guy sitting at the back of the 2009 NBA Draft class, but Lester Hudson is a good bet to make the grade for the Boston Celtics.
Adam White is Sports Editor of the Banner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.