- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Walking through Toronto showed R.J. Hunter the power of March Madness. His late and abyss-deep 3-pointer knocked his injured father out of his stool and third-seeded Baylor out of the NCAA tournament four months ago. Georgia State became Cinderella for a few days. Hunter was the prince.

Well after, moving through the streets of Toronto, Hunter said he was recognized.

“Nice shot,” a stranger said.

“That’s how I knew March Madness put me on the map,” Hunter said Tuesday.
A wispy 6-foot-6, 190-pound shooting guard, Hunter was in Washington for the Wizards’ final predraft workout. Once he boarded a plane out of Washington and back to Atlanta, Hunter was done with a grinding pace of exhibitions that left him unsure of what the calendar says.

“This I think [was] my 10th and final,” Hunter said. “I’m starting to lose track of days, hours and everything.”

Before the 3-pointer that upset Baylor launched Hunter into the national and international consciousness, NBA scouts were watching. Hunter averaged 17 points as a freshman at Georgia State while playing for his gregarious father, Ron. That number rose to 18.3 points his sophomore season, then 19.7 last season. Though shooting is R.J. Hunter’s strength, his 3-point percentage dipped last year. He was down to 30.5 percent from 39.5 the season before. He was also job one for opposing defenses.

“Good players see good defenses,” Hunter said. “There’s no excuse for that. I just think I didn’t make enough shots. I think there’s a lot of footwork, a lot of rushed shots, a lot of things mechanically I didn’t do right. I think with more space — in the league, you have to focus on every shot. In college, I get 20 shots, so here and there you can kind of not focus on one and footwork can be wrong on another, but rookie year, you only four or five and they all better be locked in.”

Hunter is an intriguing option from the Wizards’ perspective. They select 19th in the first round, a spot where Hunter could be available. Washington is working on an extension with Bradley Beal, who has one year left on his contract, this summer. If the Wizards are able to extend that contract, Hunter could be viewed as an insurance policy for the oft-injured Beal, plus a bench boost when Beal is healthy. He could also provide a slight reduction in minutes during the regular season for Beal, giving the Wizards a way to protect the 21-year-old from the ravages of 82 games.

Hunter’s known quantity is shooting. He said teams have been surprised by his passing ability in workouts. He would also point out that he’s a basketball player in general, one with shooting as a superlative. Hunter also feels he fits in the morphing NBA, which has become a wing-dominant league.

“That’s why there is so much space on the floor now,” Hunter said. “You don’t always have to create your own space with strength now. You just kind of know how to play and work with your area. … It’s perfect for me right now.”

He declined an invitation to attend the draft at Barclays Center in New York. Instead, he’ll be home in Atlanta with friends and family. Attendees will, of course, include his father, who became famous for being excited. Ron Hunter tore his Achilles’ tendon when celebrating the Panthers’ Sun Belt Conference tournament championship. He was stool-bound with his lower left leg in a cast during the NCAA tournament. Dad dropped with his son’s game-winning tournament shot. He flopped sideways off his rolling stool. A trainer rushed to his side. The Georgia State bench players celebrated maniacally.

On Tuesday, R.J. Hunter said his father will be standing for the draft. There are considerations of posting people on either side of him for safety’s sake. A Velcro seatbelt of some kind has also mockingly been suggested for future games coached. Ron is trying to get back to golf and recently was able to slide his shoe over the injured foot.

“That thing was flimsy, man, didn’t look too good,” R.J. said. “It didn’t look too good. He did a lot of rehab. He’s doing well.”

Ron’s son has not tired of the moment that put the Hunter family on stage. Another will come Thursday night, when R.J. Hunter will be removed from the 10 predraft workouts, stop his daily calls to his agent to ask about his draft position and no longer worry about what general managers are thinking. He’ll have a new place to play and a chance to build on what he’s known for. There’s an outside shot that will be in Washington.

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