R.J. Hunter doesn’t have much time for anything other than swishing jumpers. So for the last three years almost every night around midnight while most his peers are cramming for tests or crushing beers, Hunter has made his way to the Georgia State gym to get up shots. Well, actually…
“I make a lot of shots,” Hunter says. “I’m not good on just getting a lot of shots up.”
This kind of obsession—Hunter adds that he only counts swishes—is what has helped turn the junior shooting guard into a potential NBA lottery pick. Hunter is averaging 22.1 points per game this season and the heavy favorite to win Sun Belt Player of the Year honors for the second straight year. He’s also coming off a summer in which he tore up the camp circuit to put his name on the national radar.
But on first sight, he looks like anything but a future pro.
Hunter, at 6’6″, weighs in at 190 pounds, and that, as we typically say with player heights, could be a generous listing—he was 180 pounds this summer at the LeBron James Skills Academy, according to DraftExpress.com. Hunter is rail-thin and just starting to grow into his body. Ron Hunter, Georgia State coach and R.J.’s father, says that he just recently taught his son to shave.
“We were so embarrassed that we went in the bathroom in the locker room when everyone was gone,” Ron says.
Once you get past the frame, however, there’s a lot to love. Hunter has a solid handle and great vision—he’s averaging 3.6 assists—to go along with a quick trigger.
“If you talk to him now and you call him a shooter, he’ll probably stop the conversation,” Ron says. “He hates being labeled that. But he’s one of the best shooters in the country.”
Hunter has range out beyond the NBA three-point line, and he never hesitates to shoot wherever he has space. In his freshman year at Towson, he drained a three that measured about 30 feet without changing his normal shooting stroke.
“My dad says shoot where you can see,” he says. “I think I can see from full court.”
Ron, who played at Miami (Ohio), got his first head coaching job at IUPUI before R.J.’s first birthday, and his son was a staple at IUPUI practices from the time he was two years old.
Even though R.J. was with him all the time, Ron tried to let him find his own calling. He had him play soccer and baseball growing up, but R.J. never even made it through an entire season. “Let’s get back in the gym,” he’d tell his dad. “It’s not for me.”
Until R.J. got to high school, Ron thought he was training him to be a coach. The two would watch film together, and Ron would test his son.
Why did the coach make that adjustment? Why do you think he ran that play? Why did he sub out that guy?
As R.J. got older, Ron would ask him to watch a play and then diagram it.
“I really wanted him to think like a coach,” Ron says. “He just got to be a better player.”
Ron realized his son had a future playing the game once he got to Pike High School.
In one of his first games as a freshman, with his oversized uniform hanging off him, R.J. hit two clutch shots in a big moment. Ron turned to his wife and told her, “I don’t know if he’ll grow, but I do know that he’ll be a special player.”
For his first three years of high school, he had to settle for being a sidekick. R.J. played in the shadow of Marquis Teague, who was a McDonald’s All-American and helped Kentucky win a national title in 2012. All the college coaches were coming to Pike to see Teague.
But everything changed during R.J.’s senior year of high school.
Ron took the Georgia State job the previous spring, and with no pops or Teague around, R.J. was the center of attention. He led Pike to the state championship game in what was supposed to be a rebuilding year.
“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Ron says of being away from his family. “They would send me tapes back, and I realized then the light switch went off for him, where he felt like it was his team.”
Part of Ron wanted his son to follow him to Georgia State so he wouldn’t have to miss any of his son’s college games. It killed him not to be around that year. He even spent the opening minutes of a Georgia State game in the locker room so he could watch his son’s senior night over Skype. But Ron thought R.J. might go elsewhere to escape his dad’s shadow.
R.J. was recruited by several major-conference schools, including Iowa, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech.
Ron became even more hesitant to have his son follow him to Georgia State when he talked to another college coach who coached his son. That coach regretted coaching his son because it was hard on the family.
R.J. had also watched his always-demonstrative dad roam the sidelines for years and had his own doubts.
“I know he’s crazy,” R.J. says. “I know he’s wild and he stomps and is yelling at players every other play for made shots, missed shots, anything. Do I really want to do that?”
Ron reached out to every father-son duo he knew, and Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew, who played for his dad Homer, convinced R.J. that playing for his dad was his best choice. Bryce told R.J. that it was the best four years of his life.
It didn’t take long for the Hunters to realize R.J. could thrive under his old man’s watch.
“The first time R.J. played an exhibition game, and he had 30,” Ron says, “I thought, ‘OK, I made the right decision.’”
R.J. proved to be a great mid-major player his first two years of college, but this summer was about proving to himself that he could hang with anyone.
His confidence started to grow when he made his first stop of the summer at the Kevin Durant Skills Academy and got the attention of Durant during a five-on-five game.
With Durant watching from the sideline, Hunter had been struggling until he knocked down a fadeaway jumper from the post.
“I heard Kevin Durant say ‘Damn,’ like ‘He hit that,’” R.J. says.
Next possession, he scored again.
“It was kind of getting loud,” R.J. says.
Then R.J. scored again with a floater and followed that up with a fourth straight bucket.
“(Durant) just pulled me aside and said you’re a really good player. Just keep doing what you’re doing,” R.J. remembers. “I think we kind of had the skinny thing going on.”
That skinny thing is the one hesitation that NBA scouts have with R.J., but there are other mid-major players who have had the skill for franchises to look past their frames. Former Lehigh guard C.J. McCollum went 10th to the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2013 NBA draft, and former Davidson guard Steph Curry is the poster child for what a skinny mid-major scoring machine can be at the next level.
Curry had the luxury of playing in a system at Davidson where he could show off all the different ways he could score—from running off multiple screens to getting the ball in more isolation sets later in his career.
R.J. has had a somewhat similar career curve. He scored a lot of his points on spot-ups during his first two seasons. This year he’s still performing really well on spot-up jumpers, but he’s getting fewer of those looks because the scouting report says not to leave him.
The Panthers have had to get more creative getting R.J. the ball, and that means running him off a lot of screens. One of his favorite players to study growing up was Ray Allen, and like Allen, he has a great understanding of how to move without the ball and get himself open.
In the Curry mold, R.J. has also shown off an ability to get his own shot off the dribble.
No one is ready to tab him as the next Curry, but he did get labeled as a potential lottery pick when he played well in front of scouts at the LeBron James Skills Academy.
“He looked like he belonged,” an NBA scout who was in attendance told Bleacher Report. “That’s always the toughest thing for some of those guys who come from a smaller school. If they’re NBA players, they just look like they belong. If they’re a little bit out of their element, they could fail. He looked like he belonged.”
Ron had told R.J. to go to the camp in Las Vegas by himself and enjoy playing without dad watching over.
“Then I got 1,000 calls,” Ron says. “Everybody was calling saying how great he was playing. I couldn’t take it. I got on the next flight.
“I wanted to go as a father. I didn’t want to go as a coach.”
The two are hoping for at least one more special father-son moment this season as they try to get Georgia State to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001.
R.J. helped lead a turnaround last season when Georgia State went from a 15-16 season his freshman year to winning 25 games and the Sun Belt in the regular season. This season Georgia State is tied for its best start in the program’s last 10 years (6-3) against the toughest nonconference schedule during that stretch, according to kenpom.com’s metrics (subscription required). The three losses have come to teams that have lost a combined two games.
Ron credits R.J. with changing the culture—many of his teammates now join him for his middle-of-the-night workouts—and he’s also helped his dad generate interest in the program.
“If you went to my freshman-year home games, it’d probably be like this plus 10 people,” R.J. says during a shootaround at Iowa State last month. “Now you go back and it was a sellout for an exhibition.”
The Panthers were on the verge of playing on the national stage last March when they led by nine with just over three minutes left in the Sun Belt tournament championship game against Louisiana-Lafayette, who ended up rallying and winning by one in overtime.
“Just being that close, you can really taste it,” R.J. says. “You almost start celebrating, and then you just lose it. That just gave me a different hunger. I’m a completely different player mentally and physically because of that.”
R.J. is also motivated by what a tourney bid would mean to his father, who made three NCAA tournaments as a player but has only made one as a head coach.
The Hunters paid special attention last year to the McDermotts, another father-son duo who made the tournament and were one of the biggest stories of the college basketball season.
R.J. has picked Doug McDermott’s brain about what made them so successful, and Ron likes to remind his son that McDermott decided to play four years at Creighton instead of leaving early.
“I tease him, ‘You know McDermott came back now,’” Ron says, laughing.
R.J. will have his choice after this season, and if he takes Georgia State to an NCAA tournament, he may have accomplished everything he can accomplish in college.
But if pops wants to read between the lines, his son has grander visions than just one more season and one NCAA tournament.
“I think I can get him to two more before I leave,” R.J. says.
C.J. Moore covers college basketball for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter @CJMooreBR.
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Those who love to gripe about how they never call traveling in the NBA just found their new prime example.
During a loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday, Minnesota Timberwolves swingman Corey Brewer came up with a steal in the backcourt and turned it into a fast-break dunk at the other end.
The steal was nice, the dunk was emphatic, but what came in between…
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Yeah, that’s a just a bit of a walk.
Brewer got away with it, but the questionable slam was the highlight of a very quiet night for him. The Florida product scored just six points in 37 minutes as the T-Wolves lost 111-92.
Thumbnail photo via Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY Sports Images
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Naz Long and Monte Morris led the Cyclones past their rivals.
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) — The one-game suspension for star Bryce Dejean-Jones was handed out just a day before Iowa State’s biggest game so far.
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Even the most powerful college basketball machines need to occasionally recharge before destroying more opponents, and that is exactly what the Duke Blue Devils will be doing until Dec. 15.
Mike Krzyzewski’s bunch won at Wisconsin on Dec. 3 and won’t take the court again until Dec. 15 against Elon.
That means 12 days off only a few weeks after the start of the season, which may seem unusual, but Duke often takes these breaks during exams. It allows the players to focus on school work without having to worry about preparing for top-notch competition.
The flip side of that is the potential for rust to creep in because playing in a game is much different than merely practicing for two weeks.
What’s more, if you believe in momentum, this break could not have come at much worse of a time for the Blue Devils.
They are dominating on the floor right now and have a sparkling 8-0 record to show for it. They also controlled the entire game against Wisconsin in Madison, which was all the more impressive because so many expected a Badgers win in the Kohl Center.
Throw that on top of double-digit-point wins over Michigan State, Temple and Stanford, and the Blue Devils have an argument to be the No. 1 team in the nation. They’re currently ranked No. 2 in the AP Top 25 poll.
There are also the impressive performances from individual players that stood out, and one has to wonder if there will be any lost momentum in that regard.
Jahlil Okafor is a rock, and there is a reason DraftExpress considers him the front-runner for the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NBA draft.
While he may be somewhat rusty when he returns, his game and confidence level should still be sky-high when he takes the floor again. Dominating down low with strength and athleticism doesn’t require as much rhythm as shooting from the outside or running an offense either.
The long layoff is perhaps more concerning for Tyus Jones, simply because he is playing at an All-American level and likely has all the confidence in the world right now. He was the best player on the floor for either team in the Wisconsin win and scored 22 points, dished out four assists and grabbed six rebounds.
All of those numbers were game highs for the Blue Devils.
The nation is starting to take notice of Jones as more than just Okafor’s partner in crime, as evidenced by remarks from Jeff Goodman of ESPN, CBS Sports’ Clark Kellogg and ESPN College Basketball:
Another potential concern is that Okafor, Jones and Justise Winslow are all freshmen and just starting to get accustomed to the speed of the college game through eight contests. An extended break could throw off some of that timing the next time they take the floor, which would then throw off the entire team considering these are the best three players on the roster.
However, there are plenty of silver linings to these 12 days off that should outweigh the concerns about rust.
Once Duke reaches the NCAA tournament, it could find itself with a similar type of schedule. Theoretically, the Blue Devils could play a round of 32 game on a Saturday and not take the floor again for the Sweet 16 until the following Friday.
While this current break is longer than that hypothetical, it is solid preparation for a young team that has never experienced a full college basketball season before.
It also gives the Blue Devils an opportunity to rest and recover from a few grueling early-season games against the physical Spartans and Badgers.
Krzyzewski has seven players averaging 18 or more minutes a game, and four of them have been on the floor for more than 25 minutes a game. There is a steep drop-off after those first seven in terms of playing time, and a shorter rotation means Duke is more reliant on its main pieces and will need them to be as fresh as possible in ACC play.
While this break was less than ideal from a momentum standpoint, the Blue Devils will fortunately have a game to chip off any lingering rust before they play Connecticut on Dec. 18.
Duke battles Elon in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Dec. 15 in its first game back from break in what should be an easy victory. The Blue Devils could treat that game much like a marquee college football squad does a season opener against an FCS squad before the competition heats up again.
Krzyzewski likely scheduled a cupcake after the break by design for that very purpose.
What’s more, Duke has another 11-day break right after the Connecticut game.
This time off between Wisconsin and Elon will give the Blue Devils some practice on how to deal with that break on the horizon because ACC play will be right around the corner after they return from that second chunk of time off on Dec. 29.
Even if rust is a problem for the Blue Devils when they return to the floor, it won’t impact their overall season and win-loss record.
They will certainly be ready to go against Connecticut after an easy warm-up win over Elon.
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ESPN reports that Cleveland Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters is fine with his reduced role on the team as long as the team keeps winning. Coming into Thursday, Waiters has averaged 8.5 points, 1.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists in 23 minutes per game.
When asked if he was fine with the lack of a role, Waiters said “It’s not about me. As long as we’re winning (I’m fine).”
Cleveland defeated the New York Knicks on Thursday night 90-87 to extend their winning streak to 5 games. Dion Waiters had another lackluster game with 6 points, 0 rebounds and 1 assist in 20 minutes of action.
The post Dion Waiters Doesn’t Mind Reduced Role As Long as Cleveland Cavaliers Win appeared first on Basketball Bicker by Joey.
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Words are only worth so much, but Kevin Love continues to say all the right things when it comes to his future with the Cleveland Cavaliers. In an interview with ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning”, Love, once again, pledged his allegiance to being a member of the Wine and Gold beyond the 2014-15 season.
“Whether we lose two or three games in a row, or there’s a game where my statistical output isn’t necessarily what it should be, people are always going to talk,” said Love. “Since I was traded to Cleveland this summer, I’ve said since Day 1 that I’m a Cleveland Cavalier long term and I plan for it to be that way. I want to grow with this team. There’s a lot of guys with a lot of unique talent, one-through-fifteen, on our roster who are going to be here for a long time. If I could end all the speculation now, I would. But people are going to continue to talk no matter what. I just want to continue getting better with this team long term. I’m a Cleveland Cavalier.”
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The Houston Rockets have quickly established themselves as one of this young season’s most pleasant surprises, lifting off to a 13-4 record despite injuries to starters Dwight Howard, Patrick Beverley and Terrence Jones.
They’re 4-3 without Howard, who’s missed seven games this season, including the last six in a row on account of a knee injury. Though the team’s overall record hasn’t suffered dramatically as a result just yet, things may well get worse before they get better.
And that’s because we really don’t know when they’ll get better.
“I want to get back out there now if I could, but I don’t think it’s smart, uh for me to try to rush anything,” Howard told reporters on Tuesday. “You know, when I’m 100 percent or when I’m close to it, that’s when I’ll play. I don’t wanna give my teammates or this city nothing but the best, so I’m not gonna go out there until I’m ready to do everything I can do.”
Thus the question marks about said return’s time frame and just how much longer this club can remain afloat in the interim. The good news is that there’s been some progress.
“It’s basically the second day I was able to get out and do some sprints on the floor,” Howard added. “Other than that, it’s just been on the treadmill and doing some court work. So, today was a lot better than the past couple of days.
“A lot of the stuff is going away. We have to keep doing what I’ve been doing. The trainer (Jason Biles) has been doing a great job trying to get rid of the pain that I’m having around my knee, and we’ll go from there.”
The eight-time All-Star center remains doubtful for Wednesday’s meeting with the 15-2 Memphis Grizzlies, a perennial dark-horse contender that currently holds the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. The Grizzlies decimated Houston by a 119-93 margin during their first faceoff this season, and that was with Howard in the lineup.
Without him, the Rockets have dropped games to the Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers. One might be able to dismiss the Lakers affair as something of an outlier, but defeats at the hands of the Clippers and Warriors highlight the enduring importance of this team’s 28-year-old big man.
Regardless of what the standings might indicate for the moment, the Rockets aren’t going anywhere without their anchor on the inside.
That’s no slight to star shooting guard James Harden, who’s been nothing short of brilliant amidst the various injuries.
Through 17 appearances, he’s averaging 25.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 6.7 assists per contest. He’s tallied at least 32 points in three of his past six games (all sans Howard), including a revealing 95-92 victory against the much healthier 13-5 Dallas Mavericks.
But games against teams like Memphis remind us of the painfully obvious. Without an elite presence in the paint, opposing bigs like Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph are poised to exploit the most significant of Houston’s admittedly few vulnerabilities.
Those two combined for just 23 points and made eight of their 21 field-goal attempts when Memphis blew out Howard and Co. in November. Without Howard around on Wednesday, they’re likely to do a bit more damage.
Thrice named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, Howard can make a pivotal impact even without scoring at a particularly high rate. The 18.8 points he’s averaged through 10 contests has certainly helped Houston’s cause, but it’s his 2.3 blocks per game that may be even more critical at a time like this.
Per NBA.com, Houston’s opponents have only scored 90 points per 100 possessions when he’s on the floor.
He’s simultaneously responsible for containing the Gasol and Randolphs of the world while also serving as the last line of defense against slashers and cutters. Even when he doesn’t officially record a block, his above-the-rim activity and 265-pound frame are credible deterrents against would-be scorers.
The Rockets’ defensive pedigree certainly benefited from the addition of swingman Trevor Ariza via free agency this summer, but there’s no substitute for imposing rim protection.
Houston’s success may seem to suggest otherwise, but it’s a small sample size and hardly indicative of the challenges that await. The West is absolutely stacked with title hopefuls and otherwise formidable foes. At the moment, seven teams have no more than five losses.
Good as the Rockets have had it so far, they certainly haven’t been the only ones.
Setting themselves apart from the rest of a very deep pack will require a healthy Howard. Last week’s 102-85 loss to the Clippers was Exhibit A. Blake Griffin went to work against Houston’s porous interior, tallying 30 points and 10 rebounds in just 31 minutes of action. With talented bigs like LaMarcus Aldridge, Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins lurking out West, Houston can ill afford to rely on guys like Tarik Black to man the middle for much longer.
The 23-year-old Kansas product has surpassed expectations, but he’s no rim protector.
And while it’s become fashionable to bemoan Howard’s relatively one-dimensional scoring ability, he still gets the job done well enough to serve as Houston’s second option on the offensive end. His post game may leave something to be desired aesthetically, but a 57.5 percent success rate from the field doesn’t lie.
So there’s at least some urgency to his recovery. No, the Rockets haven’t imploded, and they probably won’t anytime soon. But the race for seeding will be as competitive as ever, and the importance of each win and loss is magnified accordingly.
“I’m trying to get my leg right,” Howard told the Root Sports television broadcast on Saturday, via The Houston Chronicle‘s Jonathan Feigen. “It’s fine when I jump off or do anything with two feet, but once I try off the one foot, there’s still a lot of pain. I’m trying to make sure I can play where I won’t have that much pain.”
Unfortunately, pain isn’t bound by a particular timetable in this case.
According to Feigen, Howard, ”underwent platelet-rich plasma therapy, an increasingly common procedure, to help relieve the pain and inflammation in his knee” a day after missing the Nov. 19 contest against the Lakers.
“It’s basically a blood draw from yourself that you would take just like you were taking blood to send to a lab, but instead of sending it off, you basically centrifuge it in a spinning machine to separate red blood cells, white blood cells and the plasma layer,” team physician Dr. Steven Flores told Feigen.
Flores explained that while the procedure won’t regrow cartilage, it should help address pain and inflammation.
Even if Howard’s pain recedes, however, there’s still some concern his knee troubles will reappear. They’ve become something of a nuisance since training camp, which may explain in part why the organization appears to be taking his return to the floor so cautiously.
Indeed, patience may pay off in the long term. Much as the Rockets miss Howard now, they would miss him far more come April or May.
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Mavs Use Double OT To Win Fourth Straight
Monta Ellis’ 38 points led the Dallas Mavericks to a 132-129 win against the Chicago Bulls, but it took two overtimes to get there. Dirk Nowitzki, Chandler Parsons and Devin Harris all scored at least 20 points, reminding us why the Mavs led the league in offensive efficiency with 115.8 points per 100 possessions through their first 18 games, per Basketball-Reference.com.
But Ellis’ heroics were the story this time. He hit a go-ahead trey in double OT to finally end the game, and he hit three free throws to tie it with 1.2 seconds remaining in regulation. Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich inexplicably fouled him several feet beyond the three-point arc, and Ellis got enough of a shot up to earn all three attempts at the line.
And one of the more costly fouls, as well.
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Here’s how he can do it.
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NBA teams more and more are valuing the type of player who can make and defend three-pointers.
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