The NBA Is Always On Vincent Hunter´s Mind But For Now It´s Leading AEK Athens To Another Title

It was 2,30 in the afternoon on a very rainy, windy and stormy day in Germany where no one really wanted to leave the house or the work place as the conditions were as uncomfortable as a Shaq falling down on you in the paint and taking his time getting up and the kind of day where no umbrella is safe and where one better have a more sturdy one waiting in the wings when I reached ex NBA player Vincent Hunter preparing for a Basketball Champions League game against Brose Bamberg in Bamberg. It was five and a half hours before tip off and he was up beat and why shouldn´t he have been, because basketball life for the friendly American has been excellent in the last year and a half as he got his first experience in the NBA playing a few games with the Memphis Grizzlies and then returned back to Europe and suited up with a new team AEK Athens and proceeded to win the Basketball Champions League and Greek Cup. Basketball life has continued to be good for the Detroit native as this season he has an important role on a team that has been playing very well in the Greek league where they are currently in third place and always in the mood of annoying the Euroleague powerhouse teams Panathinaikos and Olympiakos and in the Basketball Champions League have held their own sitting atop group C with a record of 10-2 and on their way of continuing to do damage in this competition the way they did last season. The amiable sounding American didn´t know me and I didn´t know him, but for some reason we hit it off right away on the phone, but there was one side note that definitely helped the getting to know phase as I mentioned to him that I had had dealings with his brother Matt in the past. His brother Matt Hunter is four years older than Vince, but 7 centimeters smaller and is also a professional player. He played at Central Connecticut State (NCAA) and then played in Germany and his last stop was with IR Reykjavik (Iceland-Dominos League) two seasons ago. In Germany he wore the jersey of the Rostock Seawolves (Germany-ProB) playing 25 games averaging 18.7ppg, 6.8rpg, 2.6apg, 2.4spg, FGP: 52.2%, 3PT: 29.5%, FT: 71.2% and picked up All-German 2.Bundesliga Pro B 2nd Team -16 and German 2.Bundesliga Pro B All-Defensive Team -16 awards. Even though Vincent Hunter has had more success than his brother he has the utmost respect for him and thankful for very much. “We have a special relationship. I have watched him play since I as a little kid. He is one of the main reasons why I even started to play basketball. He is looking for a team at the moment. He is still a good player. I still learn a lot from him. I appreciate his passion and hustle the most on the court”, stressed Vincent Hunter. He also is one of the few professional players that didn´t take himself in that special one on one duel with his brother. “We get at it all the time during the summers. I think he would get more wins. I´ll give him that”, added Vince Hunter. One notices quickly that that brotherly love is mutual and that the respect for each other is more than present. “Me and my brother are like super goofy. Anytime we get together it’s nothing but jokes n laughs. We can just chill and not talk about basketball at all. I think that’s what helped us with sports. We’ve always been competitive and it just helped us push each other. Seeing who would score more or get more dunks. It’s always been fun. I think that’s why we have always been happy and cheered for each other”, warned Matt Hunter. After my nice chat with Vincent, I promised to try to help his brother Matt get back on the basketball scene with a team with my basketball and agent contacts. After the brother connection was discussed and the ice was broken, I preceded to have a very informative and interesting 40 minute talk about his career. The NBA was a hot topic, but so was his zeal to do great things with AEK Athens. All throughout the talk, the American continued to repeat a phrase that has stuck with me since then. “I just have to keep my head down and keep moving forward”. He obviously wants to get back to the NBA, but this phrase clearly shows the kind of drive he has to be successful for any team he plays for as the NBA is always on the mind of Vincent Hunter, but for now it´s leading AEK Athens to another title.

                Vincent Hunter was born on August 5th, 1994 in Detroit Michigan and grew up in Southfield and played at Consortium College Prep. There he first got noticed with his basketball talent as he was named team MVP as a senior after averaging 26.5ppg, 14,0rpg, 4,0spg and 4,0bpg and aided the team to a 20-4 record. He then played two seasons at UTEP(NCAA) playing a total of 67 NCAA games and started 58 games. In his freshman season he played 34 games averaging 12.3ppg, 6.5rpg, 1.3apg, FGP: 55.8%, FT: 60.9%. He scored in double figures in 22 games including posting 26 points against Southern Mississippi, 21 points against FIU and 20 points against Middle Tennessee State and Marshall. He upped his game even more in his sophomore season averaging almost three rebounds more per game while playing  33 games averaging  14.9ppg, 9.2rpg, 1.7apg, 1.2spg, 1.0bpg, FGP: 53.0%, 3PT: 40.0%, FT: 60.2%. He scored in double figures in 25 of 33 games and  registered 12 double doubles. His season highlights included a 26 point bashing against South Eastern Louisiana, 23 points against N Mexico State and 22 point efforts against UAB, Rice and Florida Atlantic. He had made great progress on the court in his two years at UTEP and felt he was ready to test the professional waters instead of continuing in the NCAA. He had the total support of his family who made his decision come a lot easier. Usually when a player is putting up strong stats in the NCAA, a lot has to do with his own ability and teammates, but in most cases the head coach also has played a significant role in that player developing so well. Very rarely do I hear of a player that had a good NCAA career and then had the luxury of having a professional career not talk fondly of his college coach, but sometimes things don´t mesh with the head coach as Hunter experienced with Tim Floyd at UTEP. “I´d rather not talk about him”, said Vincent Hunter. The American declared for the NBA Draft in April 2015, but remained undrafted, but got his first taste of the NBA that summer playing the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas with the Philadelphia 76ers playing 4 games averaging 7.0ppg, 5.5rpg.

Hunter who credits the Arizona(NCAA) standouts Stanley Johnson and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson as his toughest opponents in school began his professional career in 2015 and made the training camp roster of the Sacramento Kings (NBA) plying one pre season game and later was released and then moved to Reno Bighorns (D-League) where he got his first real taste of how the NBA works playing 33 games averaging 21.8ppg, Reb-3(11.1rpg), 1.5apg, 1.0spg, 1.6bpg, FGP: 59.6%, 3PT: 20.0%, FT: 66.7%. He was incredibly consistent scoring in double figures in 30 of 33 games and scored 20 points or more 23 times and 30 points or more four times. He had a monster game against Los Angeles netting 32 points and hauling down 24 rebounds and also had great games against Iowa with 32 points and hit Oklahoma for 31 points. His stellare play definitely warranted some kind of NBA call up, but it never came. His rookie season didn´t end in the D-League, but suddenly he was in balmy Athens in winter playing for one of Europe´s greatest teams Panathinaikos and teammates with Greek legends Antonis Fotsis and Dimitris Diamantidis  and well known players like James Gist, Nick Calathes, James Feldeine. “Of course I was disappointed and wanted a call up. I really wanted some team to recognize me, but in the end it turned out good. I came to Greece and played Euroleague with Panathinaikos Athens. Signing with a Euroleague team was a big deal for me. I was quickly showed another view of basketball. That helped me in the long run”, warned Vincent Hunter. With Panathinaikos Athens (Greece-A1) he played 14 league games averaging 2.9ppg, 3.3rpg; and 8 Euroleague games averaging 4.0ppg, 1.9rpg. It normally is always very competitive with minutes with Euroleague teams, but when you come in mid season, getting minutes is a major challenge, but he was very happy for the early European experience. “It helped me a lot. I was lost when I came to Greece. I didn´t know the European game. The game quickly taught me how different the game is in Europe. When I came over, I really believed I would average 30/20 in Euroleague, but I learned quickly that that wasn´t realistic. I ended up getting something like two shots a game”, added Vincent Hunter. Along the way he picked up his first professional title with the Greek cup.

In his second professional season in 2016-2017 he sought the NBA route again starting with the NBA Pro Summer League in Orlando  playing 3 games for the Los Angeles Clippers averaging 5.3ppg, 3.3rpg and then played NBA Pro Summer League in Las Vegas  with the Memphis Grizzlies playing 5 games averaging 11.8ppg, 7.0rpg, 1.8spg, 1.0bpg. After playing a very strong NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, he had high hopes of making an NBA opening day roster, but was disappointed by the Chicago Bulls and Memphis Grizzlies ven if he did play 4 pre season games for the latter. He decided to refrain from going the G-League route and went back overseas for a new challenge with t Avtodor Saratov (Russia-VTB). He had a very good sophomore campaign overseas for the Russian side playing in the VTB which is considered a top league where he played 17VTB  games averaging 14.7ppg, Reb-2(7.7rpg), 1.0apg, 1.4spg, Blocks-3(1.2bpg), FGP: 55.3%, 3PT: 25.0%, FT: 67.6%, and played 9 Basketball Champions League games averaging 14,6ppg 5.9rpg, 1.2apg, 1.2spg, 1.6bpg, FGP: 63.0%, 3PT: 50.0%, FT: 61.9%. “I believe that the VTB is one of the top leagues in Europe. It was crazy how many good teams we played from a day to day basis. I remember playing top teams like Kuban, Zenit, CSKA and Khimky in a time of four to five days. You always have to bring you’re a game. Otherwise you will have problems”, warned Vincent Hunter.In the VTB League he had some great games against Unics and Khimki netting 22 points a piece. He´ll never forget playing against one of Europe´s top organizations CSKA Moscow losing 95-80, but contributing 6 points, 6 boards, 2 dimes, 2 steals and a block. There was especially one player that Hunter was in awe of on that evening. “Kyle Hines is a guy I always want to learn from. We play the same position and we are both undersized position five players. He is one of the top defenders in Europe so I try to pick up things from him. He is a perfect fit for CSKA Moscow. I like how he plays his game. He produces in his own way”, warned Vincent Hunter.That season he had some teammates with marque names like Michael Stocktin and Marquis Teague, but he had a very special relationship with the fierce and intimidating competitor Nick Minnerath. “Nick is my guy. He actually played division one at the University of Detroit so I watched him play a lot in high school.  So we had a little connection there. He went through the same kind of steps I did playing D League and then coming overseas. I always tried to take in as much information as possible”, added Vincent Hunter.

            Going into his third professional season in 2017, it was no surprise that he was booked up in July and not available for any lounging on Miami´s or Mexico´s beaches as he had another date with the NBA Summer League in Orlando playing 3 games with the Oklahoma City Thunder) averaging 16.3ppg, 7.0rpg, 1.7apg, 1.3bpg, FGP: 58.6% and also with the Memphis Grizzlies in Las Vegas playing 6 games averaging 8.5ppg, 5.7rpg, 1.7spg, FGP: 56.8%. In his third attempt of reaching the NBA, he finally made the big show with the Memphis Grizzlies (NBA) playing  3 games averaging 2.0ppg, 1.0rpg and also played 13 games with the Memphis Hustle (NBA G League) averaging 16.2ppg, 8.6rpg, 2.2apg, 1.0spg, 1.3bpg, FGP: 52.9%, 3PT: 17.4%, FT: 70.3%. In the G-League he scored in double figures in 10 of 13 games including a 29 and 13 effort against N Arizona and a 23 and 14 effort against Oklahoma. His good G-League play got him a gig with the Memphis Grizzlies. He scored in every game, but lost to San Antonio, Miami and Golden State. He had some memorable teammates with Marc Gasol, Tyreke Evans and Mario Chalmers just to name a few and will never forget the NBA ride. “I cherished the overall learning process. We didn´t have a very good season. We had the second worst record and were ahead of Phoenix. Our coach was fired during the season. I learned about the ups and downs that go along with being in the NBA. The most important thing I learned about my time with Memphis is that you have to keep grinding, keep my head down and keep moving forward. You can only control what your doing”, warned Vincent Hunter. There is that phrase again of keeping his head down and moving forward. Every player´s dream is the NBA, and for Vincent Hunter being at the big show was way to short. “Of course the NBA is on hold for me. I always want to play at the highest level possible. If I can´t play NBA then I want to play Euroleague. The NBA dream is never over for me”, warned Vincent Hunter. Making the NBA last season may have been his biggest feat as of yet, but his season would provide a few more major highlights when he joined AEK Athens (Greece-A1). He may have come in mid season and played only 14 Greek league games averaging 8.4ppg, 2.8rpg, FGP: 63.2%, FT: 81.5%; and 8 BCL games averaging 8.9ppg, 4.4rpg, 1.5bpg, FGP: 63.6%, FT: 57.7%, but he also won 2 chips with the Basketball Champions League and the Greek Cup. He had some very strong games in the Basketball Champions League including a 20 point game in 22 minutes in the 80-71 win against Olimpija and was solid in the final contributing 10 points in 17 minutes in the 100-94 win against Monaco.

            It was only obvious after the massive success with AEK Athens that he would return for this season. He did have another go at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas playing 4 games for the Los Angeles Clippers averaging 8.8ppg, 5.3rpg, FGP: 68.4%. AEK Athens continue to shine this season and after two titles last season have a lot of self confidence for new great things happening this season. “I think that we are a top team. We have been playing well in the BCL, but were coming off a tough loss against Olympiakos. They are a real tough team. Our biggest strength is our defense. When we are locked in defensively then we are to beat”, said Vincent Hunter. The team recently let go Canadian guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes and could have picked up the missing piece to a title with guard gem Jordan Theodore. “ He played with Milan last season and played BCL with Banvit. He knows how to score the ball”, stressed Vincent Hunter. The team has a lot of versatility and experience with guys like Jonas Maciulis, Dusan Sakota, Malcolm Griffin and the beast Delroy James, but have a reel jewel in Howard Sant-Roos who has been climbing the basketball ladder since 2009 when he was with Bernareggio (Italy Serie C Reg.) and toiled in the German third division for a few years in Braunschweig playing with a fairly unknown Dennis Schroeder before making his break through in 2015 with CEZ Basketball Nymburk (Czech Republic-NBL). “He is our leader on defense. I think that a lot of people don´t really know how good of an offensive player he is. Once he is clicking he can be unstoppable on offense. On the defensive end, he can stop anyone”, warned Vincent Hunter. On a team with a lot of talent, Vincent Hunter is holding his own and leading the team in scoring and rebounding in both competitions. He had good performances in the Greek league with 12 points against Panathinaikos and 15 points against Olympiakos in losses and in the Basketball Champions League hit Lietkabelis for 28 points, French team Dijon for 25 points and Spanish side Fuenlabrada for 24 points. “My biggest strength is my versatility. I can guard the positions 1-5. I try to bring a lot of hustle on defense getting blocks and steals and just being everywhere”, warned Vincent Hunter. His scoring definitely gets noticed from opponents, but it´s his versatility as a scorer that isn´t always on the radar. “Even if I do score, I still think that at times it does get unnoticed. My ability to score on the fast break and scoring in different ways is something people don´t always see. I can´t control if people notice this or not so I just keep my head down and continue to move forward”, stressed Vincent Hunter. Once again that favorable phrase of his always present in his mind when he is thinking about his career. Hunter didn´t leave Bamberg with a win, but left the Bavarian town still sporting a positive 3-2 record against German teams. Against Bamberg, he played solid for 27 minutes contributing 14 points on 7/10 shooting in a tough 77-73 loss as the 11-5 turnovers did them in. The 203cm forward has the chance to win three titles this season as his basketball rise continues to develop. At the age of 24, he already witnessed the NBA and played against Tony Parker, Marc Gasol, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and as a rookie was a Euroleague player with Panathinaikos Athens. He is a guy that will be very interesting to watch where his basketball path continues to take him. With a strong finish with AEK, he might not even have to play NBA Summer League in summer as he route back to the NBA could even be easier. He knows what his recipe for success will have to contain for him to get back to the big show. “I think the only thing I have to do is keep playing my game. I think that somebody will eventually notice me. I can´t control that, but only how I play. Like I said before, I will keep my head down, work hard and keep moving forward”, warned Vincent Hunter. Oh there is that phrase again of keeping his head down and moving forward. His intensive focus and desire to reach his goals are so strong that he will go his way.

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