He’s a leading scorer, a leader, and even a Diaper Dandy.
It’s been an interesting few months for Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter.
Playing for his dad for the first time, with all of the pressures that can come with that, Hunter is thriving as a freshman on Georgia State’s basketball team.
He has played so well, already winning four conference rookie of the week awards, ESPN’s Dick Vitale listed him as a “Diaper Dandy,” a term used for promising freshmen, in a column he recently wrote.
“I’ve been kind of satisfied, but we aren’t winning enough,” Hunter said. “That’s partially my fault. I’ve done some good things but not good enough. I’m going to keep working, keep trusting my teammates and just try to do my part.”
Despite Hunter’s 16 points per game, the Panthers (6-10) have struggled this year heading into Saturday’s Centennial game against Delaware at the Sports Arena. The team features nine members who didn’t play at Georgia State last year, including R.J.
After turning down recruiting overtures from Virginia Tech, Vanderbilt and Wake Forest among others, Hunter arrived in Atlanta ready to see what playing for his dad would be like, as well as the experience of college basketball. It didn’t take long for him to regain the confidence he had at Pike High School in Indianapolis.
Hunter, 6-5, has a smooth stroke and a quick shot, which enables him to come off screens or find holes in zones for his catch-and-shoot motion. He scored 14 points in the opener against Duke, where he shrugged off the coach’s son chants from the Crazies, something he’s ignored most of the year.
“It doesn’t bother him,” point guard Devonta White said. “He said he knew it was something he was going to have to deal with.”
In addition to scoring, it soon became necessary for him to take on the role of firing up the team. He hasn’t shied away from talking to anyone, including juniors White and Manny Atkins.
“Just in practice, when there’s a lack of energy, I make sure every single person talks,” Hunter said with the same rapid pattern of speech his dad has. “Just say something, just be vocal on the court.”
Being a leader isn’t something that his dad and coach, Ron, hoped he would have to take on so early.
”If I could diagram how his freshmen year would go it’s great, but I didn’t want him to have lead us as much as he’s having to lead us right now,” Ron Hunter said. “I’m a big believer in you gradually go into those things.”
Other than that, both agree things are going well.
Hunter is adamant that he’s never coached his son in anything before. That, coupled with his own fiery style, which includes the foot-stomp, the stare-down, the sprint-up-the- sidelines, and, of course, the yelling, caused many to wonder how the two would mesh.
It’s one thing to yell at a freshman you’ve known for a short time. It’s another to yell at flesh and blood.
There was a short period of adjustment.
“The first time he yelled at me, I was like ‘What?’”, R.J. said, mimicking looking over his shoulder quizzically. “But then I got used to it. He’s treating me like everyone else on the team.”
It took about a week after R.J. arrived in the summer for the two to figure out when coach-player needs to be father-son or vice versa.
Hunter said that was his biggest concern when R.J. signed to play, but now it’s the area in which he’s most pleased.
“Play for your dad, which he’s never done; play in college, which he’s never done; play at this level, which he’s never done…how do you handle it mentally?” Hunter asked. “That’s where I’ve been really surprised. Most 18-, 19-year-olds don’t do that that well and he’s handled it extremely well.”
That ability to morph from son to player has carried over with the rest of the team, where R.J. is just a player, and not the coach’s son and player.
“(R.J.) talks more about him than we do,” White joked.