Georgia State’s R.J. Hunter was selected by Boston with the 28th pick in the first round of the NBA draft on Thursday.
Hunter may have been joking, but he said he hopes to become the team’s best shooter since another son of Indiana used to burn the nets in the Garden.
“My boy Larry (Bird) Legend played for them, so hopefully I’ll be their best shooter since Larry Legend,” Hunter said.
Hunter, a 6-foot-6 guard, was an AP All-American honorable mention last season after averaging a career-high 19.7 points. He left Georgia State with a year of eligibility remaining after leading the Panthers to the third round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. His 30-foot 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left knocked off No. 3 seed Baylor in the second round and helped make Georgia State into the tournament’s media darlings.
Hunter becomes the school’s first first-round pick in the NBA draft and the first selected in 32 years. He holds numerous school records at Georgia State, including career free throws (444), free throw percentage (.852) 3-pointers made (250), 3-point attempts (707) and points (1,819).
“For me to be that pioneer and to be that ambassador, I’m super excited,” Hunter said.
With red-rimmed eyes, Hunter looked noticeably exhausted Thursday after waiting more than three hours for his name to be called by league commissioner Adam Silver. Hunter could be heard trying to thank his family and friends afterward but kept choking up until he finally gave up.
“I can’t explain it,” he said of the feeling. “It’s numb. It’s a whirlwind. It’s a great feeling for sure.”
Hunter is known as a streaky shooter who can score a variety of ways and who plays with a high basketball IQ.
Knocks against him going into the draft were his ability to play man-to-man defense because the Panthers played zone under his father and coach Ron Hunter, and his ability to beat defenders off the dribble.
Hunter, a native of Indianapolis, Ind., attempted to answer those questions by participating in the NBA combine in Chicago, where he was also working out in preparation, and reportedly wowed several teams in individual workouts before the draft. The Celtics weren’t one of those teams. Hunter was supposed to work out for them last week, but wasn’t able to do so because of what he described as a personal issue.
“His range is as soon as he gets in the building,” ESPN analyst Jay Bilas said during the draft coverage.
Ron Hunter said Boston was one of three teams that he hoped would select his son because he knows Boston coach Brad Stevens very well from their time as college coaches in Indiana: Stevens at Butler and Hunter at IUPUI. R.J. Hunter said Stevens was the only coach beside his father in the state to recruit him.
“Now I can relax and just go back to being a dad,” Ron Hunter said.
The 28th pick is slotted to receive $957,200 in the 2015-16 season, slightly more than $1 million in 2015-16 and slightly more in the 2016-17. Ron Hunter said he expects R.J. to take him out an expensive restaurant in Boston after he receives his first paycheck. R.J. said he plans on buying something special for his mom, Amy, his dad and his sister as a thank you for everything they have done to help him.
The Celtics went 40-42 last year and need shooters, according to ESPN’s draft analysts. One analyst said Hunter was already the best shooter on Boston.
Hunter said he feels no pressure knowing that the Celtics might need his scoring sooner rather than later and seems ready to embrace the challenge of playing for one of the league’s marquee teams.
“Every time you put the jersey on you know it means toughness,” Hunter said. “I’m just ready to put my hard hat on.”