It’s not often that a 3 seed takes down a 14 seed in the NCAA tournament. It’s not often that it happens in dramatic fashion, as a small conference school hits a last second basket to take down a power conference team. It’s not often that the man who hit that game-winning basket is the lone NBA prospect in that conference. However, yesterday during Georgia State vs. Baylor, we were treated to all three of those things when RJ Hunter lifted his Panthers over a highly touted Baylor Bears squad. With that shot, he no doubt lifted his NBA pedigree and will be looked at intently with any team looking for a guard.
In order to understand Hunter’s game, we need to first understand where he comes from. RJ is the son of Ron Hunter, the current Georgia State head coach who made his legend at IUPUI. Ron coached at IUPUI from 1994 until 2011, when he brought the program from NAIA irrelevancy to its only NCAA Tournament appearance in 2003. After establishing himself as a legitimate Division 1 coach, Hunter moved from IUPUI to Georgia State, bringing his son RJ with him. Thus, a partnership between father and son began in downtown Atlanta that would eventually result in NCAA Tournament heroics.
RJ Hunter entered Georgia State as a freshman and made an immediate impact, establishing himself as not only one of the best players on the team but in the entire conference. Hunter scored over 17 points per game as a freshman, shooting over 45 percent from the field, including over 36 percent from long range. Hunter’s rookie heroics earned him the honor of CAA Rookie of the Year, setting the stage for his decorated career as the Georgia State point guard.
His sophomore season was even better as he continued to develop his off ball game and shooting stroke to push Georgia State even further. He scored over 18 points per game, improving his long range shot to almost 40 percent from 3-point range. Hunter’s performance earned him Conference Player of the Year honors in the Sun Belt and propelled the Panthers to the NIT, their first postseason appearance in a decade. However, Georgia State lost to Clemson in the first round, but Hunter returned for his junior season.
Hunter’s junior year, he truly established himself as a star in college basketball. He scored nearly 20 points per game, earning back to back Sun Belt Player of the Year honors, the first player to do so in over a decade. Hunter’s performance helped Georgia State win their first conference championship in 15 years and a coveted NCAA Tournament appearance. In that game, Hunter, with the help of his father, led the team in scoring, and a valiant defensive effort propelled the Panthers to victory. Now, a team from a small southern conference led by a kid from a small school in Indianapolis is just one game away from the Sweet Sixteen.
Even more impressive than Hunter’s exploits at Georgia State are his chances at the upcoming NBA Draft. Many scouts consider RJ Hunter the best pure shooter in the entire NCAA, and with shots like yesterday’s, it’s hard to argue with them. In many ways, Hunter has shades of Davidson’s Stephen Curry: small school, sharpshooting guard with big-time dreams. With the Sweet Sixteen on the horizon and the NBA Draft after that, the future looks very bright for RJ Hunter, a small kid from a small conference making big moves.