Q&A: De'Andre Hunter Discusses Finger Injury, Rookie Challenges, and More

Ben Ladner

Back when Lloyd Pierce was an assistant coach in Philadelphia, head coach Brett Brown began a team tradition known as the “Breakfast Club,” in which players, coaches, and guest speakers gave presentations on subjects they were passionate about to the rest of the team. The 76ers would gather for a team breakfast, usually on off-days, and listen to a presentation relevant to a given player’s interests. When Pierce became the Hawks’ head coach last season, he brought the custom to Atlanta. He and John Collins have already given their presentations, with DeAndre’ Bembry slated to speak next. 

Saturday, however, was De’Andre Hunter’s turn, and the rookie chose to educate his teammates on money management. “He educated our guys on needing to be educated,” Pierce said. “The beauty of it was he’s talking about something that’s very important and he’s concerned about it. I think the fact that he’s talking about it and seeking advice shows what kind of character this kid has.”

Hunter, who speaks with his financial advisor once a week, isn’t far removed from giving presentations in his classes at the University of Virginia, and his meticulous, calculated playing style is also reflected in his prudent approach to managing his money. It’s no surprise, however, that the reticent Hunter doesn’t particularly enjoy the public speaking aspect of Breakfast Club. “I actually hate presentations,” Hunter said. “I hate talking in front of people, but it was cool. Guys were into it and gave me some advice. It was cool.”

Opening up and using his voice has been – and will remain – a key part of Hunter’s development. Pierce constantly stresses to the rookie the importance of communicating with his teammates, even if it runs counter to his natural inclinations. The Hawks see a bright future for the 22-year-old on both ends of the floor, but only if he asserts himself both physically and vocally. “I think he’s cautious of making mistakes and tries to avoid them,” Pierce said last month. “So he’s just a reserved, silent, quiet guy anyway. But it’s hard to be an elite player without having a voice.”

Sports Illustrated caught up with the Hawks’ taciturn rookie on Saturday to discuss his dislocated right finger, his status for Sunday’s game, adjusting to life in the NBA, and more.

SI: How’s the finger feeling and what have you been able to do the last couple of days?

DH: I haven’t done any contact drills. I haven’t been practicing but I’ve been watching. Conditioning, staying in shape, I started shooting and dribbling yesterday. It’s a wait-and-see thing. Like I said, I didn’t do any physical contact, so I’m not a hundred percent sure. They said it was just to save my finger for the game, so we’ll see tomorrow.

SI: Do you expect your role to change at all now that Kevin [Huerter] is back in the lineup?

DH: No, not really. Kev’s a great playmaker and a great shooter, another guy who can score the ball and make plays. I don’t think that’s necessarily going to change my role. I think my made my role clear as just a guy who can basically do everything. So I don’t think Kevin’s going to change my role, but I’m excited to have him back for sure.

SI: Do you you’ll play the four a little bit more now that Kevin is healthy? Coach said that might be something you guys go to more often against certain matchups.

DH: Definitely. Especially with guys like P.J. Washington – I think he plays the four for the Hornets – so I definitely could play a little bit of four tomorrow. We’ll see.

SI: Cam Reddish has struggled a little bit this year and his role seems to be a little bit less defined than yours. What kinds of conversations have you had with him about developing and adjusting to life in the NBA?

DH: I mean, I’m a rookie too, so I can’t really speak much on it. We just talk to each other, we tell each other to stay confident. I told him to stay confident and I was really happy for him after the game he had against the Nets. So hopefully he can keep that confidence up and take it into the next game.

SI: You two shoot with each other after practice and warm up together before games. How did that pairing originate?

DH: It just happened. I’m not sure how [the coaching staff] configured it, but they told us we were shooting together. We were already pretty close, so it’s just the natural thing, I guess.