James Hunter describes the last six months as a roller coaster but he has no plans of getting off anytime soon.
The Southland Sharks’ big man came from nowhere at the start of last season’s National Basketball League to earn selection in the New Zealand Select team, followed by the Tall Blacks’ FIBA Asia Cup squad, before earning a fulltime ANBL roster spot for the New Zealand Breakers.
Hunter today confirmed his return to the SIT Zero Fees Southland Sharks for the 2018 New Zealand NBL, joining fellow Tall Blacks Reuben Te Rangi and Luke Aston as early signings for the League’s southern-most team.
“Working with Judd (Flavell) and the success we had last year put me and the other guys on the map and set us up really well for selection,” Hunter said. “Judd runs similar sets and the same philosophy as Paulie (Tall Blacks and Breakers head coach Paul Henare) which meant there was an aspect I already knew, like how things are run and the family culture around the team.”
“Judd was a huge part of coming back for me. The way he worked out with me and helped me progress my game was massive. Then there’s the familiarity with the team and the programme and how everything is run down there, you are really well looked after,” he said. “It was an easy choice and I’m glad I’ve made it and I’m coming back.”
The admiration between Hunter and his Sharks’ Head Coach is mutual.
“James is one of those guys who is just so likable. He brought so much to the team and our culture last season. Here I am talking about his character traits and personality before I even start on his skills. I think that says a lot about somebody when that’s the first thing you talk about, Flavell said.
“Obviously the guy can play. We saw him improve through the year as he got more and more comfortable with his surroundings and our systems on the court. As with anybody the less you’re thinking about things on court and the more you are playing on instinct, the better you are going to be and we saw that with James, particularly in the second half of last season.”
“He was hitting me up every single day to work-out and from my perspective when you’ve got someone as hungry as that, it’s hard not to go with them,” Flavell said.
Hunter made his on-court ANBL debut for the NZ Breakers last night, scoring 5 points in a busy seven and a half fourth-quarter minutes in a 90-73 blow-out victory over the Sydney Kings, just another milestone in what the man himself describes as a crazy year.
“It’s been a whirlwind but I’m just settling in and I just want to learn from the guys, develop my game and try and be the best basketballer I can be. I see my role as learning and improving every day and just try to bring to whenever I can,” Hunter said.
Flavell said his work ethic was serving him well at the Breakers.
“Every day is a learning experience for him because at this level its very competitive. In every single position you’ve got guys competing to just get on the training court.
As Jimmy does, when he’s got opportunity he’s thrown himself into it and already this morning he’s hit me up for more skill-work. To see him running around last night was a proud moment, just knowing where he’s come from over the last 8 or 9 months and there he is running around on the court in a Breakers singlet,” Flavell said.
Southland Sharks’ General Manager Jill Bolger is delighted to have one of the team’s real characters returning.
“James was such a delight to have around last season. He’s a laugh a minute and made sure there were never any dull moments in the locker room. But he also put a power of work in and it’s been such a thrill to see him go on to the Tall Blacks and Breakers,” Bolger said.