WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) — Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens knew all about R.J. Hunter long before he hit one of the biggest shots of last season’s NCAA Tournament.
If Stevens had his way, Hunter would have played for Butler instead of for his father, Ron, at Georgia State. And there would have been no memorable scene of dad tumbling off his stool after his son’s 3-pointer clinched a stunning upset of Baylor in March.
“When R.J. was coming up, I said, ‘If you get sick of your dad, call me,'” said Stevens, who left Butler for Boston in 2013. “He finally did. After three years he decided to go to the NBA.”
Stevens smirked, but Ron Hunter had an even bigger smile. He was still limping but no longer confined to crutches as he proudly watched his son introduced Tuesday as one of four Celtics draft picks.
“Our life hasn’t been the same since R.J. made that shot, to be honest,” said Hunter, who tore his left Achilles tendon celebrating Georgia State’s Sun Belt tournament title. “I told R.J. this morning, it’s not about ‘One Shining Moment’ anymore. Now you turn that moment into a lifetime. And that’s what he’s going to do.”
Hunter, the 28th pick in last week’s NBA draft, sat next to 16th pick Terry Rozier of Louisville at the Celtics’ practice facility as they join a crowded backcourt in Boston.
They’ll meet fellow guards Marcus Smart and James Young for workouts Wednesday before the Celtics compete in two summer leagues that president of basketball operations Danny Ainge believes will help sort out an unbalanced roster.
“It’s a player’s job to prove to the coach that he needs him,” Ainge said.
Hunter believes after watching “a team full of shooters” win the NBA title in Golden State, he can provide Boston with needed range from outside. And Stevens certainly knows his game.
Stevens first met the 6-foot-5 guard in grade school when Stevens was an assistant at Butler and Ron Hunter was coaching at nearby IUPUI in Indianapolis.
Stevens later became Butler’s head coach, and he watched R.J. Hunter play at Pike High School in Indianapolis while recruiting. When Ron Hunter left for Georgia State, most assumed R.J. would play for his father. But Stevens didn’t completely give up.
“We would joke about it every time we would see each other,” Ron Hunter said. “And when I thought Brad was getting real serious I thought I better start recruiting my son a little bit better. So we’d sit at the dinner table and I’d start telling these horror stories about Butler.”
Hunter chuckled as he surveyed the practice court on what he said was the third day he’s been able to wear regular shoes. Much has changed since he fell off that stool in celebration following his son’s hoop that made the 14th-seeded Panthers national darlings.
“It really just hit me as he was sitting on the stage up there that I guess I won’t coach him again,” Hunter said. “That’s the hardest part. No, I’m really happy for him. He’s a great kid and he deserves great things.”
Hunter’s wife, Amy, calls her son’s selection by the Celtics the perfect scenario in what’s been a memorable four months for the family. The couple’s daughter also recently got married.
“It’s just unbelievable to see your son launch into the NBA and go into the hands of a coach who he knows as a human being, knows his family, his system,” Amy Hunter said. “I just feel feel completely spoiled rotten. It doesn’t get better than that.”
And for Ron Hunter, he gets to see his son develop under Stevens while no longer having to recruit against his friend.
“He’s got a better coach now,” Hunter said.
NOTES: Second-round picks Jordan Mickey (LSU) and Marcus Thornton (William & Mary) will also play on Boston’s summer league team that will compete in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. … Ainge said Thornton will likely play in Europe or the NBA Development League next season. … Don’t expect the Celtics to splurge on middle tier players when free agency starts Wednesday. “There is so much uncertainty because you want to get the best players,” Ainge said, “but you also want to manage the salary cap and payroll to keep us competitive.”
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