- De'Andre Hunter can do it all and will be one of the first picks in the 2019 NBA draft. He spoke to The Crossover about his time in Virginia, his draft day preparations and more.
Virginia forward De’Andre Hunter is a lot of things. He’s a national champion, a consensus Third-Team All-American, the 2018-19 NABC Defensive Player of the Year, an All-ACC First-Team honoree and the 2018-19 ACC Defensive Player of the Year. He’s also heralded as one of the best–and most consistent–two-way prospects in this year’s class, landing the Philadelphia, Penn., native among the projected lottery picks ahead of Thursday night’s NBA draft.
Hunter spent three seasons in Charlottesville under Tony Bennett, redshirting his first year and then earning Sixth Man of the Year honors after a standout freshman season. Slotting into the starting lineup as a sophomore, Hunter emerged as arguably the Cavaliers best weapon on both sides of the floor. Shooting at a 52.0% clip from the field and 43.8% from deep through 38 starts, the 21-year-old forward proved his worth as a selfless all-around player with the versatility to do everything from defending a variety of positions to knocking down open threes for whichever NBA team takes him. Averaging 15.2 points–good for second on the team behind shooting guard Kyle Guy–5.1 rebounds and 2.0 assists per game, reigning national champion poured in a career-high 27 points to go with nine rebounds on 8-for-16 shooting in the title game, completing the Cavaliers' redemption run after their infamous first-round loss–which Hunter missed with a broken wrist–in the 2018 NCAA tournament.
Although the soft-spoken 6’7”, 225-pound wing may be unassuming by nature, Hunter’s breakout sophomore campaign–which was capped off by a star turn at the Final Four and finished with a personal best performance in the national title game–cemented the lengthy and versatile Virginia star’s status as a sure-to-be early-first round selection. Sports Illustrated spoke with Hunter before the draft about the end of his college career, his draft day preparation and his NBA aspirations.
Editor's Note: This interview has been condensed for clarity.
Emily Caron: You capped off a historic season with Virginia with your best personal performance to date–can you tell me about what it was like to end your collegiate career like that?
De’Andre Hunter: It was amazing. It was something I’ve dreamed about since I was a kid–having that kind of game in the national championship. The aftermath of the championship, going [back] to Virginia and being able to celebrate with the fans there and my family as well was a crazy feeling.
EC: Do you think that had any impact on your draft stock? Was that something that crossed your mind at all during the tournament?
DH: Personally I wasn’t thinking about it at all but of course after the championship game I saw things written about it. I feel like, at the least, that game definitely didn’t hurt me in any way at all.
EC: Out of all the things you accomplished during your college career in Charlottesville, which meant the most to you?
DH: Definitely the national championship. Solely because of what happened last year [in 2018] and how people were talking about us throughout the entire year. People were still overlooking us because of what we did during the tournament last year so bouncing back and helping us win the national championship was definitely my greatest accomplishment and the greatest accomplishment of our team.
EC: I know that Tony Bennett told you all throughout the season to just take it one game at a time, but what particularly did you focus on to push you through the season?
DH: One game at a time, for me too. We follow [coach]. He knows what he’s talking about so we all just tried to listen as best as we could. I feel like we followed his plan pretty much to a T and it worked out.
EC: You were projected as a likely lottery pick most of this season after emerging as the ACC’s Sixth Man of the Year during your freshman campaign, did you feel any added pressure this season knowing how high the expectations were?
DH: I didn’t feel any pressure from the outside really, but I have high expectations for myself. The expectations of others don’t really bother me but I just tried to live up to what I know I can do and that’s about it. Coming into the season I said I wanted to be a top-five pick and I said I wanted to be a national champion. Those two things may come true–one did and the second one might soon.
EC: Speaking of the draft, after winning the title you immediately transitioned to training for the combine and the NBA, what did you have to do to make that transition?
DH: I didn’t really have to do much, just playing more basketball and I’ve been doing that for a while. Training in a different city was the biggest change I had to make.
EC: What has training looked like for you since declaring?
DH: The training has been great. I’ve been working out almost three times a day for about two months. We’ve been working out with some NBA guys, working out with guys [also] trying to enter into the draft this year so we had a good group. We’ve all just been working really hard.
EC: In terms of your game, what do you have to do to transition from Tony Bennett’s system at Virginia and NCAA play to playing professionally?
DH: I’ve been working on a lot more isolation stuff for myself, doing things more off the dribble and getting used to the NBA spacing. Those are the three things I’ve been working on the most. Getting used to having the ball in my hand a lot more, too. At Virginia I didn’t really have the ball as much so getting used to that and being able to know what to do, making certain reads and being able to score on my own has also [been a focus.]
EC: What have you gotten the most feedback on throughout this process and how have you used that?
DH: I’ve been getting good feedback so I’ve just been listening and working out and trying to get better. But I feel like the feedback has been really good so far.
EC: Is there anything in particular you’ve been trying to showcase to teams during this process?
DH: I’m just trying to be myself. I’m not really trying to reinvent myself to show that I can do one thing particularly well but to show teams that I’m the same player who can still do it all and get better at that.
EC: There’s been talk about you being one of the best two-way prospects in this year’s draft, but what would you say you bring to the table that’s unique to you?
DH: My versatility, for sure. I feel like I can guard a lot of positions and on offense I can play a lot of positions as well. That’s what the NBA needs and I feel like I’m one of those guys that can do that. Since about high school I’ve been pretty good at being pretty good at every aspect of the game, that’s something I take pride in–not having many holes in my game. Although there are always things I can improve on, I’m just trying to play as best as I can in every area of the game.
EC: If you could only tell teams one thing about your game or about you as a player, what would it be?
DH: I’m a winner and I like to compete. That’s two but hopefully you’ll cut me some slack there.
EC: This is a two-part question but in terms of the draft, what are you most excited about? In terms of playing in the NBA after that?
DH: In terms of the draft I’m just excited to go through the process of hearing my name get called and being with my family and being able to celebrate with them. In the NBA I’m just excited to be part of the league and be with whatever team takes me. I’m really looking forward to being able to learn from guys who are older than me and enjoying the whole NBA experience.
EC: You mentioned your family when you spoke about draft night, what does this mean to them?
DH: It means a lot to them. They’ve helped me so much through the years and having them there with my every step of the way means as much to me as I hope it does to them.
EC: Now, on draft night you’ll be wearing a customized suit from JC Penney, can you give us any hints about what you might be wearing or tell us about what inspired the look?
DH: We customized a pretty cool suit, a JF [J.Ferrar] suit. I don’t want to give too much away but I feel like it’s a nice suit and we did a pretty good job getting at my style. I’m just excited for everyone to see it.