One of my favorite parts about mid-major basketball is learning about the diamond in the rough, watching the kid that wasn’t good enough to deserve a high-major scholarship grow into a lottery pick in the NBA Draft.
Whether they are stars that led their team to deep NCAA tournament runs — Stephen Curry, CJ McCollum, Gordon Hayward, Kenneth Faried — or simply athletic marvels that worked harder than anyone else despite playing outside the bright lights of national TV — Paul George, Damian Lillard — doesn’t matter. These are the guys that we get attached to, simply because they actually end up hanging around the collegiate ranks for a few years before heading to the pros.
There isn’t a surefire NBA player in the mid-major ranks this season, but over the weekend, ESPN.com’s Jeff Goodman pumped out a solid list of 20 guys that could end up cashing NBA paychecks down the road.
Some of the names you should know — Cleanthony Early helped lead Wichita State to last year’s Final Four, Sim Bhullar is the 7-foot-5 kid from New Mexico State that did this — and others should sound familiar — Allan Chaney began his career at Florida and Jerrelle Benimon spent two seasons at Georgetown — but the bottom-line is that those 20 names are the small school studs to keep an eye on this year.
But I have one more name for you: RJ Hunter, a rising sophomore at Georgia State.
RJ is the son of Ron Hunter, the head coach of the Panthers, which helps explain how the 6-foot-5 wing from Indiana ended up in Atlanta for college.
Hunter averaged 17.0 points and shot 36.5% from three as a freshman, helping the Panthers end their run in the CAA with a 10-win season. He’s tough as well, notching 5.1 rebounds despite carrying just 175 pounds on his 6-foot-5 frame. As Georgia State moves on to become a member of the Sun Belt in 2013-2014, there are some things that Hunter can improve on, most notably his consistency. Hunter went for more than 25 points six times last season, including a 38 point outburst against Old Dominion, but also finished the year with six games in single digits.
That consistency will come with time, however. He was just a freshman, after all.
Which is why he’s a player you’ll want to keep an eye on during the upcoming season.