The good news keeps coming for basketballer James Hunter.
The SKYCITY Breakers today added the 2017 SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks big man to its fulltime player roster for the upcoming Australian National Basketball League season.
Hunter, who debuted for the Sharks in this year’s New Zealand NBL, averaging 7.8 points and 5.1 rebounds per game, was one of the stars of the NZ Select team’s recent tour to China under Breakers and Tall Blacks coach Paul Henare.
Henare liked what he saw in Hunter, a big who has the potential to provide key minutes off the bench behind the likes of Alex Pledger and Rob Loe.
“We have been on the lookout for another player to join our bigs, and our preference was always for a Kiwi to fill that role and James fits the bill. He had a great NBL season, with Judd (Breakers Assistant Coach Judd Flavell) working closely with him down there. It was his form for the Sharks that earned his New Zealand Select tour spot and he was one of the most consistent players in China.
“For a rookie, James is a mature player at 25 years of age and will come into this league all the better for it. While he is still learning and developing as a player, he knows his game well by now and understands his role on a team. He will give us hustle and size off the bench this season, can score in a number of different ways and will give us commitment and presence on the boards.”
SIT Zero Fees Southland Coach Judd Flavell couldn’t be happier for Hunter.
“I know how hard he worked and how much work he put in. He won our Sharks Coach’s award because of the characteristics he has as a person and the drive he has as a player. His performances on the international stage were achieved because of the work he put in during the season,” Flavell said.
“He got better and better every week, not just in his stats, but in his understanding of the game. He’s such a great guy on and off the court so this really couldn’t happen to a nicer guy,” he said.
Flavell now believes the Sharks programme is earning a reputation throughout the country as a launching pad for players’ careers.
“We saw it in 2016 with Derone (Raukawa) launching into the Tall Blacks and the Breakers and James is this year’s example. We want players to reach personal goals and it’s great the Sharks can play a role in that,” Flavell said.
Hunter was a little taken aback by the approach and the subsequent opportunity. Speaking from his home in Australia, Hunter described what has been a whirlwind few weeks.
“I spent the season with Judd and then wasn’t sure what I was going to do this season but then earned my spot with New Zealand Select and now this opportunity with the SKYCITY Breakers has come along, it is all happening really fast.
“The Aussie NBL was a goal of mine, I have been working with my agent to make it happen but I wasn’t thinking Breakers, but one thing has led to another and here we are today.”
While Hunter lives in Australia, Hunter is very much a Kiwi and proud of it – as evidenced by his involvement on the recent Select tour. His grandmother is Fijian and moved to New Zealand at an early age. His father Todd Hunter is a Kiwi music icon, moving to Australia with the band Dragon in the late 70’s.
“New Zealand has always been special to me, visiting my Grandma and for family reunions and events. I have a lot of family in New Zealand so have deep roots there, it is a special place for me. I love the people, the culture, and what the Tall Blacks represent. I have never questioned that commitment, I would love one day to pull on the black singlet.”
So, what can Breaker Nation expect of the 6’10” forward when he suits up this season?
“I love getting after rebounds and getting physical with people and I think I am reasonably quick for a big man. And on the back of some hard work with Judd throughout the season, I bring an outside shooting game as well now.”
While the Breakers may not have been on his radar, he has heard plenty about the four-time championship winning team.
“It is a great programme, they look after their players and have a great culture. I got a taste of that with Judd – he brings his own things to the Sharks of course, but I can’t wait to get in to work, there is something special there, it is a club has a rich history and loves to win championships.”
Hunter is no stranger to many his new team mates, having spent time playing alongside Derone Raukawa and Alex Pledger in particular.
“I have played a few of the boys on the Select Tour, with Derone in Palmerston North for half a season and of course at the Sharks. But as for Chief he is a big body so to go against him every day in practice with Southland was great for me. We like going at each other so it is going to be fun with the Breakers for sure.”
Given that famous music lineage, is Hunter likely to strike up a tune or two in the locker room?
“I am pretty musical, I can work my way around instruments – I don’t read music but neither did Dad throughout his Dragon days. It was big, but for me as a kid I didn’t appreciate it for what it was. But then you do some research and understand how big they were. It was great for me to see him playing and the environment he was in. I kind of think I am in a similar type of job, basketball in its own way is entertainment. He has been big for me, just to talk to him if I ever need anything to talk to him about.”
Hunter is well travelled and has plenty of experience on board, with time spent in the American College System (four different colleges including Washington State), Europe and back in New Zealand.
“I went through College then came home and played NBL for a bit, then went to Spain for nine months. It was a great way to learn in different environments and with different coaches. Right now in my playing career I am in the best place I have been for sure.”
Hunter will join the team for pre-season training in August and brings to 8 fulltime rostered players at the club, with just three to sign – with the club having the option of up to three imports it is likely these spots will not be confirmed until at least the end of July.
25 years old
Former teams include: Manawatu Jets, Southland Sharks, Grupo INEC Zamora (Spain), Ballarat Miners (Australia).
SKYCITY Breakers 2017/18 Roster
Alex Pledger, centre; Rob Loe, centre; James Hunter, forward; Mika Vukona, forward; Finn Delany, forward; Tom Abercrombie, swingman; Kirk Penney, guard; Shea Ili, guard.