My Two Cents: Indiana's Jerome Hunter Lands at Xavier, and That's Good for All Involved

Indiana coach Mike Woodson said Jerome Hunter "just didn't mix the way I wanted,'' which led to his departure from the Hoosiers last week, which is probably a good thing for everyone.
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Let's start your day with a quick quiz live from outside Assembly Hall as spring turns into summer. Who said, "We need to fix basketball'' in March?

  1. Indiana athletic director Scott Dolson.
  2. Several prominent – and power-wielding – boosters.
  3. Fun-loving old-time sportswriters.
  4. Every fan in Hoosier Nation.
  5. All of the above.

The answer, of course, is No. 5. When the Archie Miller era ended – and ended badly – with six straight losses in his fourth and thankfully final year, everyone with even the slightest of ties to this once-blueblood program was ready for a complete program overhaul.

There's a price to pay for all that change, though, and we're not talking about Miller's eight-figure buyout. You wanted change, and you got it. I wanted change, and I got it, too. I'm thrilled with how the last two months have gone, outside of an occasional ding or two.

And you want a better team? That means moving on from some former pieces. There are only so many scholarships to go around, only so many seats at the table.

Jerome Hunter is the poster child for that.

When Mike Woodson took over and brought in his own people as assistants, there was a very serious review of the talent that was here. There was also a very specific plan for what they needed to get better – and that plan was put into action.

Woodson wanted to get to know all these kids quickly, and after several one-on-one meetings, he realized that he and Hunter "didn't mix well.'' So, it was determined that it was better for all involved if he moved on.

"It's kind of hard when you can't actually sit down in a room and just talk with young men like my players,'' Woodson said on Wednesday. "My players that are here, I make it a point when they come in to work, they have to stop by my office and see me first, so we can chat and see how their day is going and what's going on in their lives. That's important to me. It helps me from a bonding standpoint even before we hit the floor running.''

"We just didn't mix the way I think I wanted it to be between he and I, and that's no knock against him, because I think he's an excellent kid. We decided to part ways. He understood, and I understood.'' 

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Mike Woodson and I are both Class of 1980 Indiana graduates, which means we both have a few miles on the tires. So if you thought that Woodson would come to Bloomington with a slow rebuilding plan, you're nuts.

He wants to win. Now. He's not hoping to be ready to contend in the Big Ten in 2024. He wants to chase titles right now. Like this year. That's just how Mike Woodson is wired, and how everyone with this program now is wired.

And that meant getting better. Transfers like point guard Xavier Johnson (Pittsburgh) and forward Miller Kopp (Northwestern) are immediate improvements to this Indiana roster. Johnson is now the best Hoosiers point guard, better than Rob Phinisee or Khristian Lander.

And Kopp is the best stretch forward on this roster. He's already proved in three years at Northwestern that he can shoot from the perimeter, and Indiana doesn't have anyone like that. And Michael Durr, the 7-foot transfer from USF, fills a huge void in the middle, where size was an issue with this roster.

Adding those pieces from the wild, wild west transfer portal was big, and it quickly filled out Indiana's roster at 13 spots, which was something unique after Miller, quite inexplicably, played two years in a row with only 11 scholarship players and suffered serious depth issues because of it.

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Here's where Jerome Hunter comes in. When Indiana was maxed out at 13 scholarships but still had a HUGE need for a center, something had to give. Hunter has been at Indiana for three years, missing the first with that never-explained leg injury, and then having two up-and-down seasons as a reserve.

He had a couple of huge checkmarks against him this year, too, being suspended for two games by Miller for violating team rules, and then, when he got his shot to start for four games, he played poorly. He was just 3-for-16 from three-point range, and struggled defensively in all four games, all Indiana losses.

Hunter only started this year because Armaan Franklin was hurt in those final four games. And next year? Newcomers Parker Stewart, Tamar Bates and Miller Kopp would all likely be ahead of him in the battle for minutes at the two wing spots. So might last year's freshmen, Trey Galloway, Anthony Leal and Jordan Geronimo.

That's a lot of people for a limited amount of minutes. Hunter simply wasn't going to be a huge piece in all of this going forward. That's why it's best for all involved that he moves on.

"I won't get deep into this, because I like keeping stuff like that in-house,'' Woodson said. "He decided, we decided, to part ways, and he landed on his feet at Xavier and so I'm excited about that.

"But talking about shooting. He was a guy who can make it, but his percentages didn't show that.''

We don't know the whole back story behind the announcement on May 14 that Hunter was leaving Indiana's program. There was the obligatory quote from new coach Mike Woodson thanking him for his contributions, but Hunter didn't say anything about it.

The first we heard from Hunter was this week, when he said he was transferring to Xavier.

"I just want to thank all of my supporters that have followed me throughout my career at Indiana. I have talked a lot with my family and the Xavier coaching staff and I believe in what they are building and also they believe in what I can do.''

It's a good fit for the Pickerington, Ohio native. Cincinnati isn't far from suburban Columbus, and more than anything, it's a fresh start and a change of scenery. 

Xavier is a very good basketball school. They have a passionate fan base too, on a lesser level. They play in a good league, the Big East, and have solid national TV contracts, too. So it's not like he is going to disappear.

"He left here, and still landed on his feet at Xavier,'' Woodson said. "All I can do is wish him nothing but the best. We've got to worry about the guys we have in an Indiana uniform as we move forward. '' 

Hunter had a mostly positive love affair with Indiana's fan base. They were certainly thrilled that Archie Miller recruited him, and equally devastated when he missed his entire freshman year with a seldom-discussed leg injury. They were glad to see him back as a sophomore, and optimistic that he was be a very good player at some point down the road.

But it never really happened. He played in 51 games over two years without ever earning a starting spot. And when he started the final four games this year after Franklin got hurt again, there were a lot of people who thought it just might be his coming-out party.

That didn't happen, either. He struggled to shoot when given the opportunity, and he was a liability on the defensive end as well.

Change is good, and everyone is on board with the changes so far at Indiana. Jerome Hunter is a casualty in that process, but it's all good. He can make a name for himself now at Xavier, and there's nothing wrong with that.

And Indiana can get better moving forward without him.

Breakups are hard, but sometimes they have to happen. That was certainly the case here.