CHICAGO -- R.J. Hunter surged into the limelight during March Madness after splashing a game-winning three that knocked his dad off his chair. It was the defining moment of the first few days of the tournament and gave Hunter national attention that eluded him throughout a storied college career.
But his rise from a small-school unknown to a projected first-round pick in the 2015 NBA Draft didn't happen because of that magic moment.
The 6'5 junior shooting guard has steadily transformed his body by practicing healthy eating habits, working hard in the gym and spending hours watching film, which has transformed him into one of this year's most threatening shooting prospects.
"R.J. developed over his three years here to become one of those players that athletic trainers love to have on their team," Georgia State head athletic trainer Dinika Johnson told SB Nation. "He became a guy that took the responsibility of taking care of his own body rather than having me chase him down and beg him to come to the training room."
The Panthers don't currently have a nutritionist on staff, so Johnson learned more about nourishing foods to help Hunter and his teammates' conditioning. Hunter eventually reached 185 pounds, which was necessary for him to withstand a heavy workload in 37 minutes per game last season.
Hunter jokes that his nutrition plan was called "The Eat As Much As You Can Diet," since he ate a full course of meals with wholesome snacks in-between. Johnson says that Hunter used to drink smoothies for breakfast, but has traded those in for omelets.
Though Hunter is a very picky eater, he rapidly felt the progress and became so infatuated with health and fitness that he would call her at random hours to ask about what he should eat while off campus.
"I called her at like 7:30 in the morning one time when I was at this bagel spot to see what I should eat for breakfast," Hunter smirked. "She was like, ‘Just get a bagel! What are you calling me for?'"
Most college players would scroll through Facebook while receiving treatment in the trainer's room, but Hunter gave up all social media as part of a team initiative to give up something during the season. He made use of his new free time by assessing his own film.
"I love film," Hunter said. "You just get to see everything when you feel like you did something, but then you really see what you did. It comes naturally when you watch film. It helped me sharpen up and see the floor more. I thought it just gave me an extra edge."
What Hunter learned on film he translated to the practice court, where he credits assistant coach Claude Pardue as his personal "all-time assists leader" for rebounding and passing to him for "at least 10,000 shots" during his time at Georgia State.
"My sophomore year, I was really perimeter oriented so I wanted to step in a little bit, then after that get to the rim." Hunter said. "I do a lot of cone work because mid-range usually comes off a down screen or a stagger screen. It's just simple misdirection, getting off 25 makes -- and I count makes, not shots -- I was just trying to just do that and get a lot of volume in."
With an influx of heavy three-point shooting teams, the mid-range shot is less valued in the modern NBA, but it's still crucial for players to use, especially at the end of the shot clock. Hunter believes he can be much more than a shooting specialist, so he didn't pigeonhole himself.
As a junior Hunter attempted more shots off screens, pick-and-rolls, and isolations than he ever had in his collegiate career. Due to his work off the court, he experienced a seven percent increase in his at-rim field goal percentage, with far fewer of his total makes coming via assists, per Hoop-Math.
Despite adding the weight that helped him showcase his new attributes, some scouts still worry that he'll get pushed around at the pro level at his current size. Hunter is still a pedestrian scorer in the paint, since he often pulled up for floaters instead of driving all the way to the basket. To help solve that problem, he hopes to fill out more of his frame and land between 190 and 195 pounds by the end of his rookie season.
"Instead of being reactive, I try to be proactive with a lot of stuff," Hunter said. "I just try to stay two steps ahead of everything."
All of these improvements only enhance Hunter's premier skills, his three-point jumper and basketball IQ when projecting him in the NBA. He shot only 30.5 percent from downtown as a junior, but he had defenders breathing down his neck every possession. That won't be the case in the pros.
When asked about how he received Kyle Korver-like attention from the defense, Hunter took the blame and said his struggles were due to poor shot selection and a minor mechanical issue. He said he was flicking his wrist and pulling it back instead of following through with the ball.
"There are a lot of good shooters out there, but they'll never make it because they don't have a feel for the game. I feel like I have that feel," Hunter said.
Though Hunter's percentages dropped, his all-around shooting versatility still showcased his feel. He is excellent at relocating off-ball to find open space and he's constantly getting better at hustling through screens to shake off his defender. Once he's provided more spacing as a complementary player to begin his career, Hunter should be able to flaunt his smooth jumper with unlimited range.
Hunter knows he won't be able to jack up over seven triples a game like he did in college and he doesn't want teams to think that he was spoiled as head coach Ron Hunter's son. Hunter says his dad got angry with him over many of his gunner attempts and made him work for all his opportunities before being granted a green light.
"They think we go to college and get these home-cooked meals and go stay at hotels while our roommates are in the dungeon dorms," Hunter said. "But I went through all the trenches with my teammates. I was with my teammates more than my family the whole time."
Shedding that reputation is Hunter's goal. He believes a contending team will benefit from others overlooking him.
"I'm just ready to prove I'm not spoiled," he said. "I'm ready to work."