Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Like quite a few others, Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli didn’t need to see much of Friends’ Central rising junior DeAndre Hunter to know how good he could be.
The high-upside wing missed his entire sophomore season with a broken leg suffered last October, returning only in May as he worked his way back. But despite the fact that he hadn’t played in front of college coaches since last July–and back then, he was only playing on the 15U AAU circuit, which doesn’t tend to get a lot of Division I attention–his phone has been quite popular since June 15.
When Friends’ Central played at Saint Joseph’s team camp this weekend, one night of action was enough for Martelli to offer Hunter a scholarship, his fourth offer in a five-day span. That joined those from North Carolina State, La Salle and Rhode Island, all of which came on Sunday, the first day that colleges could contact rising juniors.
Despite the injury setback, Hunter was confident that his recruitment would pick up this summer.
“I mean, I think I played pretty well last summer, so I think they know what I can do and with my injury I could still be the same player that I was,” he said. “It feels good, just [got to] work harder.”
Although Hunter missed both the entire 2013-14 season and the April live period as he worked his way back, there’s no denying he has a chance to be a very good basketball player at levels much higher than the Friends’ Schools League.
Now 6-foot-7 after a two-inch growth spurt, Hunter is an incredibly long, lanky wing with the type of frame that high-major schools drool over. His versatility allows him to defend all five spots on the floor, and while he tends to create his offense from outside-in, he’s a very effective scorer in the lane and does a great job of getting to the line.
There’s a reason that in addition to those four offers, Hunter was fielding calls from schools like Vanderbilt, Virginia Commonwealth, Arkansas, Stanford and Temple on that busy Sunday.
His high school coach, Ryan Tozer, gives a lot of credit to Hunter’s AAU program for his exposure and development.
“I think that he’s worked so hard with Sean Colson and Philly Pride just in the offseason, after the injury, getting himself back to where he needs to be,” Tozer said. “I think he’s made tremendous progress and he’s going to have a terrific summer, by the end of the summer he’s going to have a tremendous amount of offers.”
He’s certainly going to have some research to do. Hunter admitted that he knew much more about the local schools than the out-of-town universities who’d contacted him, saying he “didn’t know much” about Rhode Island but dropped T.J. Warren’s name when North Carolina State came up. He also added he visited Temple last week and plans to visit N.C. State “in like two weeks.”
Hunter is the best prospect to come out of the City Avenue private school since Amile Jefferson, who led the program to four consecutive PAISAA titles in his Phoenix career before heading off to Duke, where he’s now a rising junior.
While Jefferson played under Jason Polykoff, who then went to Penn for two years before taking the Earlham (Ind.) head coaching job this offseason, Tozer–a Friends’ Central alum and 1,000-point scorer at the school–is plenty familiar with the 6-9 forward’s game as well as those who’ve come before.
“They’re different players; DeAndre’s more of a perimeter player, has good mid-range, and Amile was a little more of a back-to-the-basket type player,” he said. “But I do think when it’s all said and done, I which one is the think DeAndre’s going to be one of the best players to come through Friends’ Central, along with Amile, Hakim [Warrick] and Mustafa [Shakur].”
Hunter certainly looked good in a win over Hanover at the team camp on Friday night, scoring 16 of his 21 points in the second half, mostly from close-range off the bounce, though he did hit a 3-pointer as well. He says he’s only about “80 percent” physically (“still can’t jump high, run as fast”) but that his re-adjustment to the speed of the game was complete.
If this is what he can do at 80 percent, imagine what he can do when he’s finally back to normal.
“I’m clearly biased,” Tozer said. “But I think he’s the top player in the city.”