Armani Cotton is a 201cm forward from New York that will be going into his second professional season and first in Germany with the Uni Baskets Paderborn. Last season he played his rookie season with Stella Artois Leuven Bears (Belgium-Euromillions League) playing 35 games averaging 4.3ppg, 2.9rpg. He started his basketball career at Yale(NCAA) in 2011 playinga atotal of 104 games in a four year span. AS a senior he played 32 games averaging 6.5ppg, 5.7rpg, 1.2apg, FGP: 46.3%, 3PT: 36.5%, FT: 66.7%. He spoke to Eurobasket earlier in the summer about Basketball.
Hunter thanks for talking to German Hoops. Where are you at the moment and how has your summer been?
I am in my hometown of New York City for the summer and it’s been great to be back. There’s no place like New Jack City.
Before we talk about your game let me ask you about your striking name. You were introduced as Armani Cotton by your new team Uni Baskets and your eurobasket profile lists you like that also, but you also have Hunter. Is Hunter a name you use when you get sick of Armani?
Haha, no. My father’s name is Hunter and my mom gave me the middle name Armani so I wouldn’t become Hunter Cotton IV. I’ve been called Armani since I was born. I honestly didn’t register that ‘Hunter’ was my legal first name until I got a passport at around 10 years old. That being said, switching it up from time to time is a nice option to have. I might start doing that.
How often do you get asked about your name Armani and what has been something that has stuck with you when somebody meets you for the first time and asks something about your flashy name?
Yeah man, people are always surprised — in a good way though. It’s one of those names that you have to live up to so I’m glad I play a dope sport and am from NYC. It allows me to fit into the name better. A nice personality can go a long way too. Armani Cotton suits me.
Congrats on signing with German Pro A team Uni Baskets Paderborn. After playing your rookie season in Belgium how was this second off season transfer period for you? Did you have ample offers and what did you learn about this business?
Thank you. I’m excited for this new opportunity with Uni Baskets Paderborn in Germany. I was fortunate enough to have several clubs in the mix this offseason but the strong talent and opportunity in Germany, particularly with this club, was a fitting and necessary step in my pro career. Thanks to my agent, Kirk Crecco, my offseason wasn’t stressful. My job is to improve as a basketball player, mentally and physically. His job is to understand our immediate and long term goals and he does a great job of executing that. To sum up my understanding of the business, the game of basketball is pure but the business often complicates that. It’s my responsibility as a player to outperform everyone on the court so politics and business don’t interfere.
You didn´t play right away after Yale. Did you have second thoughts about going the professional route as a player as New York had much to offer in the business world like being a constituent liaison for Hilary Clinton.
Wow, you did your research man haha. Growing up in NYC and graduating from Yale definitely afforded me many unique opportunities outside of basketball but from the day I watched Space Jam in 1996, I knew I was going to be a professional basketball player.
What do you know in general about the country Germany and it´s basketball? How vital was the advice for ex Paderborn player Reggie Willhite for you coming to Germany?
I didn’t know much about Germany so speaking with Reggie helped a lot. Coach Uli actually encouraged me to reach out to him. He said only great things about the club and his experience with the club that all fell in line with my goals for this season and beyond.
Especially American players like the character of head coach Uli Naechster. How were your talks with him and how did he convince you to sign with Paderborn?
Uli was a straight forward guy. He was passionate and clear about what he was looking for from me and the goals he had for this club. This season, I was looking for a place to showcase my game in ways that I wasn’t asked to in Belgium so it was a mutual understanding on how beneficial this signing would be for both myself and Paderborn.
Let´s talk a bit about your game. You’re a 201cm forward that will play the positions 3-4 for Paderborn. The club is high on your rebounding. Is that your biggest strength as a player?
I think my rebounding is a product of my most elite skill-set, LENGTH and QUICK hands. I’m 6’7 with a 7’ wingspan that allows me to finish over others, get easy deflections and disrupt otherwise easy passes. It’s something I hang my hat on because it’s a constant throughout the entire game.
Paderborn also like how you can guard many positions. If you had to pick an NBA player that most resembles your game who would you chose?
Trevor Ariza when he was on the ’08 championship Lakers. He was long, athletic, guarded multiple positions (bigger guys when they went small ball with Lamar Odom) knocked down open threes created for himself on mismatches. Just impactful and confident on every possession.
You’re a guy that can fill stat sheet, but if you review your whole game what do you feel is a part of your game that to this day still gets overlooked and can be classified as a hidden strength?
My shooting by far. I have a quick release off the catch, I understand proper spacing and create that extra space necessary to get my shot off 1 and 2 dribble pull-ups. It’s something I really look forward to showcasing this upcoming season.
You never averaged more than 8,7ppg and only 4,3ppg as a rookie in Belgium with Leuvin. Do you feel like you have the game to become an impact scorer in the pro A?
Absolutely. That’s why I’ve joined this club. My defensive versatility has always been a desirable quality for clubs/teams but Uli is putting me in a position to be all those things while also an aggressive force on offense. What I showcased last year is that when I’m given 20+ mins on the court I average a production of 10pg 5rbs even with the limited role I was asked to play offensively. I will be an impact scorer in Pro A.
Last season as a rookie you played for Stella Artois Leuven Bears (Belgium-Euromillions League) playing 35 games averaging 4.3ppg, 2.9rpg. How content were you with your first season as a professional. Do stats lie in your case? Did you have a special role for head coach Stefan Sappenberghs?
I wasn’t content with my individual season. I’d also never be content with a season unless we won the championship. My minutes were sporadic and my performances in practice and game weren’t rewarded into the next game so it made for a very challenging. Coach Stef was only with us for a couple of months before being released so it’s hard to say that there was a consistent identity/role throughout the length of the season.
What was the most positive thing that you got out of your rookie season where you know will help you in your second professional season?
Mental strength and confidence. By the end of the season, regardless of how the coaches used me during game, I knew the player that I was and would ultimately be. This showed when I was given the time to produce on the court. At this point in my career my confidence is unwavering and that coupled with a high basketball IQ makes me very confident for this upcoming season.
How important was a guy like rookie Treg Setty last season. You both were rookies and were fighting for minutes. How much did the battle sin practice benefit both?
Treg Setty is a great guy and we had countless talks and battles pushing each other physically and mentally on court and off. I know we’ll both have successful basketball careers just off the strength of how resilient we were to the negativity that often consumes a pro’s rookie campaign.
What was your wake up call to being a rookie in Europe in Belgium where you knew that you were very far away from home?
The moment for me was was right after starting the season 3-1. We were coming off a big win against the defending champions Oostende where I had a big game of 13pts 5 ribs and 3 steals in 20 minutes. Everyone had big expectations for us after those wins and we ended up losing our next 5 games in a row. I was shopping at our local supermarket and some lady and her husband started criticizing our team and our performances as a group and individuals. At that time it was funny, but when I got home I realized that I wasn’t in NYC anymore because nobody would say that to me back in my neighborhood. I was really like man, this a pro player’s life.
You had a stellar career at Yale, but were Ivy League runner up twice. Was losing to Harvard by one point in the 2015 Ivy league final one of your toughest loses in school considering you had easily beat them a few weeks earlier?
Yea, that was definitely a tough loss. It’s something I don’t think about too often because the journey from absolute obscurity in the college basketball world to making Yale University known as a force — with signature wins against UConn etc.— was the most rewarding part of my career. Even though I missed out on the NCAA tournament, clinching an Ivy League Championship ring at Harvard from our regular season helps me sleep at night.
How key was Reggie Willhite for you when you were a freshman at Yale? He was a senior when you started. Was he a type of mentor for you?
Reggie was a freak athlete. He definitely made me a physically tougher player because I had to get through him to get minutes on the court. He had grit and played through injuries all the time. I have a lot of respect for him and his defensive intensity too. Picked up a lot of his qualities going into my sophomore year when I became the starter.
You battled three years in practice against Justin Sears who had a great rookie season with Giessen and made the next jump to playoff team Ludwigsburg. Do you feel like he profited from your competitive edge and vice versa?
He was actually at my house when I officially signed with Uni Paderborn so we’ve definitely benefited from our friendship enough to keep hanging out post our college careers. For me, I’ve always been very intense about the game. Downright obsessive to be honest. I love the game so for me every moment concerning basketball was almost a matter of life and death. He’s passionate about the game too but had a much more lighthearted approach that I’ve really grown to appreciate. It’s an admirable quality that’s rubbed off on me this off-season and I think it makes for a great balance for him to have a guy who’s thinking and talking about basketball 24/7 too.
You had some nice memories at Yale on the court like beating UConn 45-44 or scoring 15 points twice against Pennsylvania. Was one of these games your best memory on the court or did you have another one?
It was beating Harvard at Harvard to get the Ivy League Title my senior year. That and sweeping Penn and Princeton at home my Junior year too. I had a double double in both games and we had a lot of Alumni show up so it was cool to have them see how far our program has gone. That used to be an impossible feat for Yale back in the day.
How does your summer workout plan look like on and off the court in 2017?
I’ve been doing a lot of core and strength training to prepare for the long haul of the season. Continuing to develop my shot so it’s automatic from the corners to spread the floor. Off the court I’ve been doing a lot of mental strength training with yoga and watching a lot of game film. More game film than I have watched during any part of my career. Really just becoming a student of the game, not just a fan. I’ve probably watched about 5 full games from Paderborn’s season last year already.
Who was the toughest player you battled in the NCAA that is in the NBA now?
Probably Bradley Beal my freshman year when we played Florida.
If you had to construct your own NBA Rushmore which 4 heads would you chose?
These are just my personal favorites, note necessarily my opinion for who the best to ever do it were so… Jordan, Kobe, A.I., Tracy McGrady (T-Mac), Hakeem Olajuwan
Lebron James failed to win his fourth NBA title and is still three away from Michael Jordan. Where does Lebron stand right now in your opinion in the never ending debate of who is the best of all-time?
Jordan is Jordan. His career was story book. His entire basketball narrative coupled with his dominance on the court just puts him in a class of his own. Two different era’s, two different lanes. Lebron is the greatest of his generation, but Jordan is the Greatest OF All Time.
There has been criticism of Russell Westbrook to be focusing more on rebounding to help inflate his stats and possibilities of getting triple doubles instead of focusing on his defensive assignments. Do you feel that this is a fair assessment to the player Russell Westbrook?
I actually worked with Russell Westbrook off the court when I was a sophomore at Yale during the summer he launched his clothing brand with Barney’s so I’m a little biased. He was cool to me so my man is just trying to win anyway he can. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
How do you summarize the 2017 NBA Draft. What sleepers do you see playing a role in the NBA? Great draft.
Had a chance to workout with Jonathan Issac when I was doing pre-draft training at IMG in 2015. He’s been training like a pro for a while so I think he’ll end up being special.
Where will the journey of the Houston Rockets go this season with Chris Paul and James Harden in the back court. Do they have enough to make a serious run at the title or is something missing?
It’ll be fun to watch but I’m not putting money on them to get to the Western Conference Finals.
What was the last movie that you saw?
He Got Game. As a basketball player, you’ve got to watch that movie at least once month.
Thanks Armani for the chat.