LAS VEGAS — The basketball world got its first glimpse of R.J. Hunter last March, when the 6'5'' shooting guard buried a game-winning three-pointer to help Georgia State upset Baylor in the first round of the 2015 NCAA tournament. It was one of the most thrilling moments of March Madness.
While that play may live forever in the minds of basketball fans, the 21-year-old Hunter is determined to give people something else to remember him by at the NBA level.
That quest starts as a member of the Boston Celtics, who selected him at No. 28 overall in the 2015 NBA draft.
Bleacher Report caught up with Hunter in Las Vegas to discuss his play at summer league, playing for his father and what lies ahead for him this season.
Bleacher Report: How did you adjust to the summer-league pace and style? You had a tough transition in your first couple of games, but you seemed to find your groove in Las Vegas.
R.J. Hunter: I’m feeling pretty comfortable. I know summer league is a microcosm of the league, but I like the space more and pace better. I like playing with better talent, since it kind of brings the level up of how you play.
B/R: Heading into next season, the Celtics backcourt is incredibly crowded. Based on where you were coming from, do you view the situation as a challenge or something that excites you as a young player?
RH: I think the youth of it excited me the most, since there is no reason for a guy to play because he is a veteran, you know what I mean? We are all young guys and are going to battle. So once I saw Terry Rozier get drafted and talked to him and everyone else on the team, I saw they were all competitive and I like that.
B/R: Have any of your veteran teammates reached out to you since joining the team?
RH: I talked to Phil Pressey [before he was cut] probably the most out of all the guys. When I was struggling early, he was the one telling me all the rookies go through this. He was helping me out a lot. I also talked to Isaiah Thomas briefly, but Phil is the one who has helped me the most.
B/R: What has stuck out to you about Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens thus far in conversations you’ve had with them about the upcoming season?
RH: The one thing I like about these guys is that they all enjoy being around the game. That just helps the players love the game more. Brad Stevens is such a brilliant guy, you kind of have to be analytical as a player. I think the coaching staff is amazing. I’m familiar with a few of them—four Indiana guys in Brad, [assistant coaches] Walter McCarty, Micah Shrewsberry and Jamie Young.
B/R: What part of your game did you focus on the most in summer league?
RH: Defense. Offense in summer league is kind of pseudo. It’s not how the league really is. Defense is real in summer league, though, because it gets wild sometimes, so I’m just trying to hone in on that end and become a two-way player. For some reason I don’t have that reputation, so I’m excited to show that.
B/R: It seems like your defense was a common knock against you since you played mostly zone at Georgia State. Do you feel that type of label is unfair due to those circumstances?
RH: Definitely. What’s crazy is me playing zone in college actually helps me, because anything I do defensively, anything halfway good, people are like, "Woah, he’s a halfway-good defender." That knock has kind of helped me out, since anything I do on that end is a surprise. It’s weird, but it’s cool. I’m going to show people something more.
B/R: You’ve been around basketball for nearly your entire life thanks to your father [Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter]. How much has that enhanced your feel for the game?
RH: That’s a lot of it. Just playing the game for so long and putting so many hours into it, you’ve kind of seen every situation. I feel like it’s natural how I play. I watch a lot of film so I see the whole floor. You see everything that happens, so I’m never really surprised by something I see, I just react to it.
B/R: After having your dad as a coach, has it been tough to shed that label as a coach’s son?
RH: I think people have been using it against me, but I’ve got more positives out of it. People say I have instincts, and that’s because I’m a coach’s son. I have good IQ, and that’s part of it too. It’s actually been easier now, since my coach is not family. It’s kind of easier to take correction and listen to him as a coach. That’s helping me as I transition to the pro game.