R.J. Hunter Thrilled to Have Another Opportunity with Celtics
CHICAGO – R.J. Hunter proudly slipped on his No. 28 Celtics uniform Thursday night for the first time in nearly three years. Boston had recalled the 25-year-old wing from the Maine Red Claws that morning, a month and a half after signing its former first-round draft pick to a two-way contract, to join the team in Milwaukee for its matchup against the first-place Bucks.
Although Hunter didn’t have the opportunity to check into the action, he has deeply cherished the experience of being back with the C’s over the last two days.
“It’s a really cool feeling just being back in a different mindset and in a different space and being around everybody else that’s kind of in a different space,” Hunter reflected Thursday morning after Celtics practice at Northwestern University in Chicago. “It’s something fresh and it’s something I’m really looking forward to being around when I’m really settled in here.”
Hunter has been in many different spaces over the last few years. After the Celtics parted ways with him ahead of the 2016-17 season, he made NBA stops in Chicago, Houston and Atlanta. He also traveled around the G League, suiting up for the Windy City Bulls, the Long Island Nets, the Rio Grande Valley Vipers and the Erie Bayhawks, before returning to the Celtics, who will have him split time between Boston and Portland, Maine – the home of the their G League affiliate.
Throughout the journey, Hunter has gained invaluable knowledge of how to approach life in the NBA.
“I just take every opportunity as it is,” he told Celtics.com. “None of this is guaranteed, so every single day that I’m here I’m appreciative and just trying to have a good vibe around it, because this is not normal for us to be here. This is an extreme blessing and I just want to take it as that and not force my ego on it, not force what I think should happen with it.”
Hunter learned of his re-acquisition in early January, about 10 minutes before the tip-off of a Bay Hawks game. He said that he was shocked out of his mind when he received the call and was thrilled to accept the offer.
Re-joining the Celtics has allowed Hunter to take a joyous trip down memory lane. Some of his favorite basketball moments came with the Celtics, whom he spent one season with after being drafted 28th overall in the 2015 NBA Draft.
“It was a special time in my life,” Hunter recalled of that season. “I was just fresh out of college, just drafted and on a playoff team at 21, 22 years old, and just getting a lot of love from the city. I will never forget those 14 months that I was there. It was just a crazy time for a young kid – like I was 21, but I was still a kid, for real – it was just a crazy time.”
Many of those moments were spent with Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart, two of his closest friends who also happen to be the only remaining Celtics players from that team.
“Terry’s my dog,” Hunter said with a smile as sat down next to Rozier and wiped the post-practice sweat off his brow. “I always kept up with him and he’s been real cool. It’s been cool to see his growth. Like we came in at the same time and just kind of the things we were struggling with early he just completely conquered and just took it full-stride. And that’s inspired me to move forward, to see somebody that I’m so close to succeed at that level.”
Meanwhile, Hunter’s teammates are ecstatic to have him back.
“I’ve been knowing RJ, playing against R.J., since we were in third grade,” Smart fondly recalled of their AAU days. “He’ll tell you about those stories. We had a few battles. So, he’s a good friend of mine and I’m happy to see him back – not to just see him back on the court, but I’m happy to see him back with this organization.”
Another person who is happy to have Hunter back is C’s coach Brad Stevens. The pair stayed close over the years, texting back and forth and keeping up with each other’s successes. Since joining the Red Claws, Stevens has had even more reason to keep close tabs on Hunter, and the coach has liked what he’s seen so far.
“I always pay attention to those guys,” Stevens said of the Red Claws players. “Obviously, I pay attention to how the team’s doing. I talk to (head coach Brandon Bailey) about the guys. I’m a lot less concerned about what they’re doing from a statistical standpoint and even wins and losses, but more from a development standpoint and if are they ready to come and play in what we’re trying to accomplish. I think R.J.’s familiarity helps that anyways, and it probably makes that transition even smoother.”
Hunter has played 34 games in the G League this season, including 12 with Maine. Over the course of the campaign, he has averaged 19.2 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.0 assists and 1.7 steals per game. He is also coming off of back-to-back seasons during which he exceeded 20 points per game, so his scoring ability is something that the Celtics could benefit from.
With that being said, Hunter is adamant about remaining patient and waiting for his time to come. Whether it be Saturday night in Chicago, or back home in Boston, he’ll cherish the moment when he steps back onto the court wearing his beloved Celtics green.