CLEMSON, S.C. — When he was struggling to find his shot and was not very productive coming off the bench, it would have been easy for Brad Brownell to keep Chase Hunter right there, on the bench.
But Clemson’s head coach saw something in the 6-foot-4 guard that really no one else was seeing.
“I hope I have played some small part, but it is mostly him hanging in there and just doing the work every day and believing and not giving in, which is what a lot of people do right now,” Brownell said.
Hunter’s hard work is finally starting to pay off. Over the last five games, he has become one of the Tigers’ more productive players, which earned him his first start of the season in Clemson’s 75-48 win over Pittsburgh Saturday night at Littlejohn Coliseum.
While playing a career-high 31 minutes, Hunter tallied 13 points on 4-of-5 shooting from the field. He also was 4-for-4 from the free throw line, added three assists with no turnovers and matched a career-high with five rebounds.
“He got his first start in a long time, and I could not be more proud of him,” Brownell said. “The way he has played, and not just tonight, but they way he has hung in there in his three years here.”
A former four-star recruit out of Atlanta’s Westlake High School, Hunter came to Clemson as a top 100 player and was considered one of the best combo guards in the country.
After starting the first four games of his Clemson career, he suffered a foot injury that he could not totally recover from. Though he tried to get back on the floor in 2020, he missed 21 games overall, including the last 12.
Hunter then broke his finger in the preseason of the 2020-’21 season, and though he played in every game he just was not the same player, as he started just four games while scoring just 3.5 points and averaging 14 minutes a night.
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“He is kind of getting ready to go and breaks a finger in his hand and that sets him back and he kinda losses some confidence,” Brownell said.
Though it has taken Hunter a little longer to get going than some of his Clemson counterparts, Brownell believes he is the epitome of what ‘Clemson Grit’ is all about. He has never wavered in his commitment, while persevering through some tough obstacles.
“When there is something that you are passionate about, you just do not give in. He has not done that,” Brownell said. “He just continues to work and be coachable and I am just really happy that he has been playing better the last month. He deserved to start today and played very well.”
As Brownell said, Saturday night was not the only time Hunter has played well. He has played well for several weeks now. In the last five games, his field goal percentage is up from 32.0 percent in the first 14 games to 62.5.
He is averaging 8.0 points per night, which is up nearly five points per game from the 3.2 he was averaging. From behind the arc, he has gone up from 20.0 percent in the first 14 games to 54.5 over the last five.
Hunter is also perfect from the foul line during this stretch and has a 6-3 assist-to-turnover ratio while averaging 21 minutes of playing time per night.
“I have just been believing in myself,” he said. “The coaches have been believing in me. They have been telling me to keep shooting and that is what I have been doing.”
Over the years, Brownell and Hunter have had a lot of conversations, as the Clemson coach has tried to encourage the redshirt sophomore, while also letting him know he believes in him. He has tried to get Hunter to think differently and not to put too much pressure on himself by thinking he has to always score.
Brownell has tried to get him to think about all the other things he can do to help the Tigers succeed.
“All the things he has the ability to do. He is a great athlete. He has a really good feel for basketball,” Brownell said. “He can pass the ball. He can be our third point guard if we need one. He sometimes can show that with the way he passes. His defense has improved tremendously since his freshman year and now his confidence has come with it.
“So, I am ecstatic that he is going to be rewarded for some of that and just hope he continues to build on that.”