This was when mid-major programs like Furman usually crack.
Villanova, the defending NCAA champions with a No. 8 national ranking, had fended off the pesky Paladins and forged a 51-48 lead in the Nov. 17 game in Philadelphia.
Seven minutes remained.
Furman had missed a couple of easy layups and appeared tired, finally beaten down by a superior opponent on its Finneran Pavilion homecourt. That is when the ball found the hands of former Leesville Road High standout Alex Hunter just beyond the 3-point arc at the top of the key.
“It was kind of a mismatch because they switched their ball screens,” Hunter recalls. “I saw the big man on me and . . . he kind of backed off, and I hit him with a little crossover (dribble). I pulled up and --- just like I had practiced many times this summer --- I banged the
In fact, Hunter banged that 3-point shot a staggering 23,000 times over an eight-week period this past summer. Shot after shot, with the assistance of “The Gun” shooting machine that fed the ball to him and registered the number of makes and misses, Hunter perfected the mechanics to his shooting form while building resistance to late-game fatigue.
Later in that same game against Villanova, Hunter drilled another 3-pointer that gave Furman a 58-53 lead with under five minutes to play, then sank both free throws with 11 seconds remaining in overtime to secure the Paladins stunning 76-68 victory.
“We’re trying to make some noise,” Hunter says of Furman, which is unbeaten and ranked (No. 25) for the first time in program history.
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Hunter is the club’s starting point guard as a sophomore, two seasons removed from leading Leesville Road to the NCHSAA 4A championship game, and a season from averaging a mere 14 minutes a game of playing time.
“It was just so apparent that his mindset, his mentality and how he was going through his (summer) work, that he wasn’t going to let anybody beat him out,” Furman coach Bob Richey said.
Through Furman’s opening nine games, Hunter has averaged 32 minutes and 7.3 points with a remarkable 36 assists to 10 turnovers. He recently posted 18 points, seven assists and a lone turnover in 31 minutes against Elon. His showing is the culmination of a work ethic that has gained the admiration of his coaching staff and teammates.
Each of his two preseasons as Furman’s head coach, Richey has conducted an internal poll of his players. They are asked to rate their teammates in six categories such as “greatest teammate” and “best communication.” Hunter landed atop the “hardest worker/extra miler,” “most disciplined off the court,” and “most deliberate in continuous improvement,” lists.
Richey first had an idea of what he was getting when Hunter reported for his first semester of summer school along with his parents, Gregory and Deborah. Mom is an administrative assistant in the guidance office at Durant Middle School in Raleigh and Dad owns
and operates Greg’s Mobile Detail and Hunter & Chavis Trucking, a dump truck service.
Richey sat down in his office with Hunter’s parents.
“This year might be hard because we’re so (experienced) on the perimeter,” Richey told them. “I don’t know what his playing time is going to be like, but just make sure we keep him engaged.”
Gregory Hunter pulled his chair closer to the desk and looked Richey directly in the eyes.
“Coach, that’s the last thing you need to worry about because he doesn‘t have any other options,” Gregory said. “He’s either going to stay here and fight or he’s going to be back home driving a dump truck.”
That is the kind of tough love Gregory gave his only child along the way, whether it was schooling him on the grass and dirt basketball court behind their north Raleigh home or teaching him the ropes to detailing a car from the time he was 7.
“It really stuck with me,” Alex says of his father. “I see how hard he works, and having worked with him growing up, it’s some tough labor out there on hot summer days and the cold winter days as well. I’m not really trying to go that route.”
On a recent weekday afternoon, one in which players were given an off day from basketball activities, Richey glanced into the Furman gym on his way to his office.
Hunter was all alone. Shooting.