To prepare for the tip-off of another great year of college basketball, CHD is reaching out to coaches and players around the country to get the inside scoop on what we can expect this time around. Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with Georgia State SG RJ Hunter about making 12 3-point shots in a game last season.
Your godfather Ron Harper won five NBA titles with the Bulls and Lakers during his 15-year pro career. Has he given you any great advice about what it takes to succeed on the court? Ron has been a great help to me over the years. I look up to him because he has been successful at the top level: what he has is what I work towards every day. He is a great man who I have had the pleasure of knowing all of my life, and I know that anytime I have a question about basketball he is someone I can reach out to.
You play for your father Ron: what is the best part of playing for your dad, and what is the…not-best part of playing for your dad? The best part of playing for my dad is that I get to see him every day. He is a great father, coach and mentor and I am thankful every day that I decided to play for him. The toughest part is when he gets on my case, but I know that he only does so to make me a better player, so it is not really a bad thing.
In 2013 you were named conference ROY and in 2014 you were named conference POY: how were you able to come in and contribute so quickly, and what did it mean to you to receive such outstanding honors? A lot of it had to do with having great teammates who took me under their wing. College basketball is a lot faster than high school, but guys like Manny Atkins and Devonta White were established players who served as great role models for me. Their assistance made the transition easier for me and helped me improve. Part of the reason I was able to win those awards was because we were winning as a team: I just did what I needed to do on the court and the rest just happened.
Last December you scored a career-high 41 points, including a conference-record 12 3-point shots: was it just one of those scenarios where every shot you put up seemed to go in because you were “in the zone”? That game was funny: I did not realize what I had done until after the game. Everything I shot was going in so my teammates just kept getting me the ball. It is actually a lot of fun to be in a zone like that where you feel like you just cannot miss! It is definitely a game that I will never forget.
In the 2014 NIT you scored 15 points in a loss to Clemson: what did you learn from that game that you think can help you this year? That was a tough one for me and my teammates. I do not want to make excuses, but it came just 48 hours after a really tough loss to UL Lafayette which would have sent us to the NCAA tourney. We gave it everything we had that night against Clemson but I do not know if we were fully recovered from a mental standpoint. I think it taught us some things that we need to work on this year so that we are ready for the postseason challenge next March.
Last year you led the conference with 88.2 free throw percentage and your 83.4 career free throw percentage is number two in school history: what is your secret to making FTs? I have always worked hard at making FTs. If your opponent is going to foul you and send you to the line, you need to take advantage of it and make him pay for his mistake. I think practicing your shot both physically and mentally are the two biggest things to becoming a good FT shooter, so I work on both of these aspects equally hard.
Your 63 steals last season was second-best in the Sun Belt: how do you balance your offense with your defense? Our team always says that if you are in the right spot defensively then good things will happen, which is part of the reason why I have been able to be successful on both ends of the court. Being able to swipe the ball away takes great hand-eye coordination, so we often work on that. If we can force more turnovers then it creates more opportunities for us to score and hopefully win the game.
Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow is one of the leading scorers on the team: how do you and he get enough of your own shots while also making sure the other gets his? Ryan and I work well together on the court. He is a really talented player who brings out the best in me, and I hope I bring out the best in him. At the end of the day our team is always going to try and score a ton of points, so there are plenty of opportunities for everyone to score. The other nice part is that if 1 of us is having an off night, we know that the other will have our back and can help us win, which is our number one goal.
Another fellow well-known transfer from the state of Kentucky recently joined your team: what is it like to have former Louisville player Kevin Ware as a teammate, and how much inspiration does he give your team after overcoming a horrific leg fracture in the 2013 NCAA tourney? Kevin is another great player who did not get to play much at Louisville because he was behind a pair of NBA-caliber guards. I think he is going to surprise a ton of people this year: he is super-quick and is skilled on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. It has been great to talk to him about what it takes to win a title. He and Ryan both have NCAA championship rings, which is obviously something I want as well. When you have guys like that it is easy to work hard to improve. We do not really talk about the injury, but I know how hard he has worked to get back and how he wants to continue to work hard to be the best basketball player he can be.
What are your goals for the upcoming season, and what are your expectations for the upcoming season? My goals are the same as our team’s goals: work as hard as possible to win as many games as possible and then let everything else fall into place. We know that we do not want to let what happened to us in New Orleans last year happen to us again this year, but there is a long way to go between now and then. Once practice starts in October we need to start preparing for game number one, as that is the most important game of the season for us right now.