Alex Hobbs used to get frustrated playing one-on-one basketball against his older brother.
After enduring blocked shot after blocked shot at the hands of Michael Hobbs, Alex knew he’d have to get creative if he ever wanted to win.
That backyard ball helped shape the player Hobbs is now for the Boise State men’s basketball team, which hosts San Diego State (11-4, 3-1) at 8 p.m. Saturday at Taco Bell Arena (ESPN2).
“My brother used to just kill me one-on-one all the time back when I was younger,” Hobbs said. “I’d try to drive it on him, and he’d block my shot every time. I kind of attest it to the more and more I got to play him, the more I got kind of crafty and was able to actually start finishing over him.”
That craftiness is a signature part of Hobbs’ game.
The 6-foot-4 sophomore guard is known for his skillful, acrobatic moves to the basket and a mean, one-handed floater in the key just over the outstretched hands of taller defenders.
Through five Mountain West games, Hobbs’ shooting percentage of 54.2 percent ranks No. 1 on the team and seventh in the conference.
Hobbs started the first six games of the season for the Broncos (14-3, 4-1) but has since become coach Leon Rice’s secret scoring weapon off the bench. He is averaging 11.2 points per game — third-best on the team — and building a strong case for the Mountain West’s sixth man of the year.
“I always like where you can change a game offensively with someone coming off the bench, and that’s what we get with Alex,” Rice said. “He is a guy who can score a bunch of points in a hurry. ... When you get that kind of efficiency from a player where he doesn’t have to come in and get 20 shots to get him going — he gets going right away usually and really gives us a boost. It is huge.”
As a four-year starter for La Porte High in Texas, Hobbs became the most prolific scorer in program history. He averaged 30.9 points per game as a senior to go with 8.5 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 2.4 steals and was named the District 21-6A Most Valuable Player. His 2,874 career points, including 988 as a senior, is a school record.
Hobbs ranked 24th nationally in scoring his senior year, according to MaxPreps.com, but his ability did not immediately translate once he joined Boise State.
“I think the biggest thing for me is the body changes I made, but also I have matured a little bit with just accepting what I have to do to be successful,” Hobbs said. “I think at times last year I would find a little bit of success and I wouldn’t keep going, wouldn’t keep getting better. I’d get kind of lazy and settle in to that spot where I was at.”
Since his freshman season with the Broncos, Hobbs has grown a half-inch, lost body fat and added muscle. He’s quickly becoming the scorer Rice envisioned when he recruited him.
In Boise State’s season opener against Eastern Oregon, Hobbs scored a team-leading 21 points, going 9-for-9 from the field and 3-for-3 from 3-point range. He is only the third Bronco in school history to finish a game with a perfect field-goal percentage with at least nine shot attempts. He joined Tanoka Beard (10-for-10, 1991) and Mark Sanchez (9-for-9, 2008) in the record book.
Against Fresno State on Tuesday, Hobbs was 5-for-5 from the floor in the first half and 7-for-9 overall for 20 points off the bench.
“I think being able to come off the bench, you kind of see some things, maybe how they are playing us defensively in like the first four minutes or that time I get until I do come into the game,” Hobbs said. “I think it’s kind of an advantage for me, seeing how the defense is going to play and seeing just how the flow of the game is going before I get to go in there.”
Whether he continues to shine coming off the bench or moves back into the starting lineup, Hobbs says it won’t change the way he approaches the game.
“I think recently since conference started, I just started to realize that, ‘Hey, be just as aggressive as you were when you were a starter,’ ” Hobbs said. “Because that’s what the coaching staff wants, and I think obviously I can help the team when I am doing that.”
Put Rice in the river
If the Broncos can sell out Taco Bell Arena on Saturday against San Diego State, coach Leon Rice says he’ll “wade across” the Boise River. What started as an off-the-cuff remark during interviews last month is quickly becoming a reality.
As of Friday morning, there were 10,500 tickets out for Saturday’s game, and the athletic department is providing further incentive by offering the first 5,000 fans a blue Idaho Central Credit Union-sponsored Boise State beanie. Fans also are encouraged to wear blue for a “Blue Out.”
“I started thinking about it, and I’m rooting for one seat under a sellout,” Rice said. “Then we get the best of both worlds: I survive the river, and we get over 12,000 here.”