WALTHAM, Mass. — Four NBA rookies officially began their Boston Celtics careers Tuesday, holding up their new green-and-white jerseys for the first time and fielding questions from a squadron of media at the team’s practice facility.
But the happiest man in the gym wasn’t one of the recent draftees. It wasn’t Celtics coach Brad Stevens nor team executives Danny Ainge and Rich Gotham, who all joined the players on the dais.
It was Ron Hunter, Celtics draft pick R.J. Hunter’s father and former college coach, who watched the proceedings from the outskirts with a Georgia State pin on his lapel and an ear-to-ear smile on his face.
“It didn’t hit me until about 10 minutes ago,” Hunter, still grinning, said after the conclusion of the Celtics’ introductory news conference, “when I’m sitting there and I see my son, and a good friend of mine in Brad Stevens, and Danny Ainge sitting up there. It was just unbelievable to be able to see my son go through that. …
“Sometimes they say the dad lives vicariously through his son, and I think (Tuesday) I did that. I thought that was me sitting up there, not R.J.”
The elder Hunter coached his son for three seasons at Georgia State, where the two helped lead the Panthers to their first NCAA Tournament in 14 years this past spring. The father-son combo also provided perhaps the most iconic moment of this year’s March Madness when R.J. hit a game-winning buzzer-beater to stun No. 3 seed Baylor, and Ron, then hobbled by a torn Achilles, tumbled off his swivel chair in celebration.
“It’s funny, because our lives have been changed ever since R.J. hit that shot,” Ron Hunter said. “It’s kind of, all of the sudden I’m sitting there and thinking about, ‘Wow, think about this.’ He hit the shot, and next thing I know, it’s like I’m waking up and now I’m in Boston with my son being drafted. He couldn’t have gone to a better place. I think that even hitting the shot was meant for him to actually be here.”
That doesn’t mean the 21-year-old was expecting the Celtics to draft him — far from it, actually.
“I actually had no idea,” he said. “I actually didn’t come in for a workout that I had scheduled, so my agent was like, ‘Oh, Danny Ainge isn’t going to like you for that.’ So, I was thinking, ‘Oh, that’s tough.’ When I got the pick, there was, like, a minute left of the clock, and I wasn’t expecting and got the call, and it was just perfect.”
Hunter said he pulled out of his scheduled workout with the team because of illness and wasn’t able to reschedule one ahead of draft night. Undeterred, the Celtics selected him anyway, plucking him off the board with the 28th overall pick after using the No. 16 selection on Louisville point guard Terry Rozier.
That means Hunter now will play his home games in Boston, roughly 1,000 miles away from Georgia State’s Atlanta campus. Ron Hunter no longer will be able to watch each one of his son’s games in person.
“That’s the hardest part,” Ron Hunter said. “I’ve seen him probably play almost every game, so all of the sudden now coaching in Atlanta, I’ll miss a lot of games. But I’m excited. I’ll find a way to make sure I’m at that first game. I’m actually going to even make his first summer league game. I’m going to USA Basketball from here, but I’m going to go make sure I can be Dad. I’m not going to be Coach — I can go be Dad again. And I can put a Celtics jersey on and just cheer for my son and his team.”
Thumbnail photo via Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY Sports Images