We’re coming up on four years since R.J. Hunter burst into our national consciousness, earning a place in the montage of March Madness shining moments.

With the clock ticking down, Hunter sank a 30-foot shot that lifted 14th-seeded Georgia State to a one-point victory over third-seeded Baylor in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Not only did Hunter’s dagger do in a Baylor team that was up by 12 with under three minutes left, it also sent Georgia State Coach Ron Hunter – R.J.’s dad – spilling off the rolling chair he was using for mobility because he tore his Achilles tendon four days earlier while celebrating the Sun Belt Conference championship.

R.J. Hunter

Since that moment, R.J. Hunter has worn three NBA uniforms and five G League jerseys. He’s been cut twice, first by the Celtics – who made him a first-round draft pick three months after his iconic shot and sent him to Portland for eight Red Claws games in the 2015-16 season to get playing time – and then by the Chicago Bulls, after Boston bid him adieu at the end of training camp in 2016, on his 23rd birthday.

“It was a very fresh feeling,” he said of being waived by the Celtics, who opted to keep James Young instead of the lanky Hunter. “I don’t know if I’ve ever felt that before. Like, I’ve only come off the bench a few times in my career, let alone be cut.”

Hunter spent much of the next two seasons in the G League, aside from three NBA games with Chicago after the Bulls claimed him on waivers, and five last winter with Houston, which signed him to a two-way contract that made him a mainstay with Rio Grande Valley.

Invited to training camp this fall by the Atlanta Hawks, Hunter opened the season with their G League affiliate, the Erie Bayhawks, with games of 40 and 46 points. He even visited the Expo on New Year’s Eve, when the Bayhawks lost to Maine.

Accepting Boston’s two-way offer to play for the Red Claws – and up to 45 days with the Celtics – meant coming full circle for Hunter, rejoining the organization that first believed in him, then cut him loose.

“It was just big that they wanted me back,” he said. “It kind of gave me a stamp on all the work that I put in, that I’m heading in the right direction and I needed that, to move forward.”

Hunter barely broke a sweat Thursday night, working on shooting drills with an assistant coach instead of playing what would have been his fourth game back. A leaky roof in the Portland Expo resulted in postponement of the game between the Red Claws and Grand Rapids Drive.

Earlier in the week, Hunter and the Claws were stranded in Ohio for two days because a snowstorm canceled their return flight.

Ah, the glamorous life of the professional athlete.

As a rookie with the 2015-16 Celtics, Hunter had that life. He appeared in 36 games. He played significant minutes. He made friendships that continue to this day.

“Whenever I see them there’s genuine love,” Hunter said of his old teammates. “That year was special for me. As bitter as it did end, in the bigger picture that was an amazing 13-14 months with the Celtics.”

On the practice court and studying film, he spent a lot of time with a young Celtics assistant named Brandon Bailey, now in his second year as the Red Claws’ coach.

“We got close,” Hunter said. “We were always around each other. He was kind of new and I was very new. We were figuring it out together.”

Bailey sees a different player than the Hunter who left Georgia State after his junior year.

“It’s not like he was super immature when he first got to us, but he was a rookie,” Bailey said. “(Now) you can tell he’s been through a lot and he understands a little bit more of the professional game. He’s been so much more polished, on the basketball court and off.”

When the G League season ended last year with Rio Grande, Hunter went up to the Rockets and accompanied them through the Western Conference finals. He envisions a similar scenario this spring with the Celtics and the Eastern Conference playoffs.

But before that happens he’s back in Maine, humbled but as determined as ever to make it in the NBA.

And if he ever doubts himself or his ability, he can always queue up that clip when he left his dad rolling on the floor in exultation.

Does he still watch that?

“Oh yeah,” he said with a big smile. “All the time, all the time.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH


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