Hunter’s decision to declare for NBA Draft a family affair

If Georgia State guard R.J. Hunter decides to bypass his senior season and declare for the NBA Draft, his sister will have played a part in the decision. That’s right, his sister.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who’s followed Hunter’s three-year career playing for his father Ron at Georgia State. The Hunters are a close-knit family—otherwise Hunter would be playing at Iowa right now—potentially life-altering decisions aren’t taken lightly, and often, majority rules.

Thus Jasmine Hunter’s role in the most important decision her brother will have made to date. Does this Ph.D student in clinical psychology have some special insight into the draft process? Not really. But no one this side of her parents cares more about her brother’s welfare.

“We haven’t had a whole lot of conversation about the decision—yet,” Ron Hunter said. “I want my son to enjoy his time in college. If this is his last year, I want these last few weeks to be incredible. But if he makes a decision, his mother and sister will have a lot to say about it.

“If his sister said come back to school, he would go back; he would listen to her. They’re very close.”

Asked to confirm how much his sister’s input would factor in, R.J. Hunter laughed. It’s true. Jasmine could exercise veto powers—unless he could offer her some compelling counterpoints.

“I would definitely listen to her,” Hunter said. “She’s been like a second mom to me. Parents aren’t always around when you’re young. She’s always been like a mom, giving me advice when I’ve needed it. So I would really look at [the Draft] and take her advice. But sometimes, you don’t necessarily need to hear what you’re doing wrong. Sometimes, you just need support.”

If the youngest member of the Hunter family keeps playing the way he has in this, his junior season, it might be hard for his sister to do anything but offer her blessings for leaving college behind. Many college basketball coaches have coached their sons through the years, but that hasn’t always guaranteed success, much less stardom. It has for R.J. Hunter.

From the time he was old enough to pay attention—five or six, he estimates—Hunter has been at his father’s side, studying film, going to practices, watching games from the best seat in the house. He can’t remember a time when his father wasn’t a head coach—after just seven seasons as an assistant, Ron Hunter took over the top job at IUPUI in 1994-95 and stayed there 17 seasons before moving to Georgia State in 2011.

Those early film sessions shaped R.J. in ways other players don’t usually get shaped.

“The vision,” Hunter said when asked what stands out from his impromptu film-room sessions with his dad. “Basketball is so much different when you watch film. You see everything. I’ve always seen the whole court, and I’m always looking for that next pass. I love passing the ball. That’s something I get a thrill out of.”

That might sound as though Hunter were a point guard by trade. He’s not. At 6-6 and possessor of a silky jump shot, Hunter has, and always will be asked to score. But don’t typecast him as a shooter. You might make him mad.

“When you’re from Indiana, you get that label of being a great shooter,” Ron Hunter said. “But he didn’t want that. It’s almost like an assistant coach being known only as a recruiter when he wants to be respected for Xs and Os, too. The best thing that could have happened to R.J. was that this year, his shooting percentages are down.

“After last year [when the younger Hunter earned Sun Belt Conference player of the year honors] he’s No. 1 on everybody’s scouting report. This year, he’s averaging more points, yet he’s made less 3s. And four of my five starters are having career numbers offensively because of R.J. That’s a sign of a well-rounded game.”

Hunter (19.9 ppg) doesn’t lead Georgia State in scoring—Ryan Harrow, who made previous stops at NC State and Kentucky before finding a home with the Panthers, averages a half point a game more. But Hunter leads his team in assists, steals, field-goal attempts, free-throw attempts and percentage and is second in blocked shots and rebounding. The man knows how to stuff a stat sheet.

That versatility, coupled with his size (6-foot-5 in shoes) and 6-10 wingspan should make him attractive to the NBA, whenever he decides to come out. And with the growing sense that, with all the junk defenses, grabbing, pushing and other efforts to slow him down, he’s done all he can do at the college level, Hunter may choose to finally leave his father’s side.

That would be a tough one, for both Hunters. The decision for R.J. to play for his dad was not a given. Ron Hunter did his homework, consulting with Detroit coach Ray McCallum, Creighton coach Greg McDermott and former Valparaiso coach Homer Drew—all of whom coached their talented sons—to try and make an informed decision. Hunter’s big takeaway?

“It’s OK to coach your son,” Hunter said, laughing, “if he’s your best player or your worst player.”

There was never any doubt that R.J. would be Hunter’s best player at Georgia State. That would have been the case anyway, but the younger Hunter showed up in Atlanta with a slight chip on his shoulder. Yes, he could have played Big Ten basketball at Iowa had he not chosen to follow his father. But there were a couple of Big Ten schools that might have given him pause and made him rethink his decision to head to Atlanta—if only he’d heard from them.

“Indiana, Purdue, not even Butler, recruited me,” R.J. Hunter said. “They obviously wanted other kids. Growing up in Indiana, you want to wear a Hoosier or a Boilermaker uniform. Butler obviously has a great program. Not getting a call from them motivated me in workouts. It added fuel to the fire.”

Not that Hunter regrets playing a little off the beaten path of Division I basketball. He’s treasured the time he’s spent with his father.

“The most difficult part has been turning that switch off—when to be father and son, when to be player and coach,” Hunter said. “We’re both so passionate, if it carries onto the court, it could be terrible. But we’ve done a good job. We’ve turned Georgia State basketball around, and I’ve loved playing for my dad. He’s so crazy. He’s a mad man. He loves the game so much. He’s put me in position where my dreams can become reality.”

As much as R.J. Hunter has learned about basketball from his father, he’s learned more about life. Ron Hunter is the guy who, you might recall, coaches a game every year in his bare feet, to shed light on the plight of children in underdeveloped nations who don’t own shoes. The elder Hunter’s Samaritan’s Feet program travels the word, and he and his players often place the shoes on the feet of the children they encounter.

Ron Hunter is a class act, and so is his son. Again, that doesn’t always translate—a father might have character, but it doesn’t ensure that his son will, unless the father puts in the time.

NBA general managers will be bowled over when they interview R.J. Hunter. He’s well spoken, grounded and mature beyond his years. When Georgia State sports information director Mike Holmes needs a player to address the media after a tough loss, he knows he can always call on Hunter, who since the seventh grade has been drilled by his father in the art of conversing with the press. Ron Hunter is one of the most quotable coaches in the country. No surprise that R.J. is a reporter’s dream, too.

As for how Hunter will fare at the next level, a (somewhat) neutral party was consulted—Georgia State assistant coach Darryl LaBarrie, who played at Georgia Tech and has been around plenty of NBA players.

“What I can envision is a shooter who can stretch the defense, like the Spurs are playing,” LaBarrie said. “The Hawks are playing like that. Even Golden State. You just can’t leave him. He’s also a really, really good passer. And with his length he gets his hands on a lot of balls and he’s a better shot-blocker than average. He’s a little unique to the players I’ve been around.”

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