A HOOS Place In-Depth Exploration
"De'Andre Hunter flares out to the left corner. Marco Anthony spots him wide open and fires the pass. Hunter squares up to face the basket. He spies the defender closing from the middle, and takes baseline. As the help meets him at the edge of the lane, Hunter launches off two feet to the front of the rim and SLAMS it home with a monster one-handed jam!
"The crowd goes wild!"
That was De'Andre Hunter's first collegiate basket after more than a year of waiting. Hunter would go on to score 13 points in 21 minutes of action against Austin Peay. He hit all three of his field goal attempts including a three-pointer, and six of his SEVEN free throw attempts.
Hunter's auspicious outing in Virginia's second game of the season was overshadowed by the exhilarating debut of fellow redshirt frosh Jay Huff, who scored 16 points in a wide variety of exciting ways. But in that first outburst, Hunter showed what he can mean to this program, and why the coaches, players and fans have been so eager to see him hit the floor. He brings a set of abilities unique to Virginia Basketball under Tony Bennett, and perhaps singular in Virginia Basketball history.
Hunter has the potential to be a superstar at Virginia, a true two-way monster. His offensive and defensive attributes both are elite, and he has so far demonstrated a nice natural feel for the game on both ends, perhaps more advanced defensively than offensively so far. At 6-7 with a 7-foot wingspan, good leaping ability and agility, he has the physical tools for stardom on both ends. His jump shot and array of finishing moves around the rim are high major. He has the basic skills to be an effective scorer at all levels. He has the versatility to guard any of the five positions aside from perhaps the biggest of centers and the quickest of point guards.
It's easy to get excited about De'Andre Hunter and what he could potentially mean to the Virginia program. In this article, we will take an in-depth look at how that potential could manifest itself based on what we have seen from him so far.
We will divide this exploration into three stages:
Stage One: His Season So Far
Stage Two: His Potential Role (Part I: This Year and Part II: Future Years)
Stage Three: His Prognosis for Reaching Those Objectives
Stage Three will include a discussion of what he will need to do to be successful.
Stage One: His Season So Far
Through the first eight games of the season, De'Andre has appeared in every game. He has appeared in the first half of every game and played at least 7 minutes. In games against Austin Peay, Monmouth, Vanderbilt and Lehigh, he played 21, 24, 16 and 22 minutes, respectively. He has established himself as the eighth man in the rotation, the only one of the freshmen to join the regular rotation. As the eighth man, he can look to see his minutes continue, because Bennett does not want to use only seven players if he can avoid it.
In numbers, Dre's Game Log looks like this:
In the three games against lower Division I teams, Austin Peay, Monmouth, and Lehigh, Dre was unstoppable. He played major minutes and was highly productive across the board. In those three games, he was 14-19 from the floor including 2-7 from beyond the arc, and hit 12 of his 14 free throws. He showed off a complete offensive game, scoring every way you can score in a basketball game.
In the games against high-mid-major and high-major opponents - some of them featuring experienced wings - Dre has played fewer minutes and had difficulty scoring. In these bigger games, he has played tentatively and without the aggression it takes to convert against high level defenses. The result is a dreadful-looking 2-16 from the floor with 6 turnovers. Go behind the numbers, though, and you see that he is doing the right things (with the possible exception of holding the ball a little too long) - driving appropriately, taking good shots - they are just not yielding results.
What has been a constant, however, has been De'Andre's effectiveness at the defensive end and in the little things. Because he is boxing out, getting low and wide and moving his feet well when defending the ball, and being alert to rotations while off the ball, he has made some vital contributions to every one of Virginia's victories. We will come back to this consistent contribution later.
While the minutes and role may not be to the level Dre might have expected or want for himself, it is a highly respectable and promising role for the first eight games of a Top 25 college career.
Let's put Dre's early role into perspective: While some Bennett freshmen like Joe Harris, Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes and Kyle Guy did walk into bigger roles as freshmen, they also walked into rosters with bigger holes that they were most suited to fill. But if we look at other key Bennett players such as Justin Anderson and Dre's current teammates Isaiah Wilkins, Devon Hall and Ty Jerome, Hunter's early role compares favorably with each of them.
Anderson logged at least 20 minutes in each of six early season games as a freshman in 2012-13. However, each of those games was against an lower level opponent. In games against Wisconsin, Green Bay, Tennessee and Old Dominion, Anderson came off the bench for 9, 12, 11 and 11 minutes, respectively. He only scored in double figures twice, in lower tier games, at 14 and 11 points.
Wilkins and Hall were fellow freshmen in 2014-15. Hall played more than 20 minutes only once in his first 8 games, and in competitive games against GWU, LaSalle, Rutgers and at Maryland, he logged a grand total of 8 minutes. Wilkins didn't play 20 minutes even once and totaled 15 minutes in those same four competitive games.
The following year, sophomores Hall and Wilkins became starters on an Elite Eight team.
Ty Jerome has a similar early game log. In the first 10 games of his college career, he played 23 minutes against Grambling, but other than that his high was 11 minutes in a Vanderbiltian beatdown of Iowa. He saw 10 minutes against West Virginia and St. Francis of New York. Other than that, Jerome barely got off the bench until well into the ACC schedule. By the end of that season he was a regular top performer, and of course now he is a starter.
The experiences of these other players suggest that Dre's move into the regular rotation in the beginning stages of his freshman campaign presages a steadily expanding role.