Eric Hunter Jr.
6’3” | 170 lbs.
Freshman | Guard
Role: Key Reserve
Eric Hunter Jr. took Indiana basketball by storm, turning a tiny program in Tindley Park and leading them to their first ever state title. He scored 25.3 points a game, 7.2 rebounds, and 3.5 assists while shooting better than 50% from three. But it’s his tenacity and length on defense that has the Boilermakers excited about what he can do for this year’s team and going into the future.
“Eric can be one of the best defenders in the Big Ten.” Nojel Eastern, Purdue starting point guard and potential best defender in the B10 already, told The Athletic this in a Q&A during the off season.
Hunter’s length and quickness will allow him to guard and harass guards while also having the versatility to potentially be effective against wings and bigger players. This gives Coach Matt Painter two versatile, long, and athletic left-handed perimeter defenders that can give defenses all kinds of problems. In just 19 minutes against Marian, he had two steals, and was consistently a problem for ball handlers as he picked him up full court.
But if Hunter had a specialty in high school, it wasn’t defense, it was scoring. He left high school basketball as the seventh highest scorer in Indiana history. Those same attributes that make him a good defender, make him a nightmare to try and stay in front of on the court. While he struggled to finish at the rim against Marian in Purdue’s only exhibition match - a struggle that is common for most player making the jump to college - he showed an ability to really put pressure on a defense and get to the rim. He finished just 1 of 5 from the floor, including 0 of 3 from three, but he consistently carved up the defense, getting at the rim, but most importantly creating open and easy shots for his teammates. He had 5 assists to tie Cline for the lead on the team while not turning the ball over.
It’s this playmaking combined with his defense that makes Eric Hunter Jr. a caliber of player that can change an entire team’s season. As it stands, he will be coming off the bench behind Nojel Eastern, Ryan Cline, and Carsen Edwards. He has the versatility to play multiple spots both defensively and offensively, while having the explosiveness and athleticism that Painter’s teams, and bench specifically, usually lacks.
His +/- of +10 was the highest of all the freshman. When he was on the court Purdue looked better on both ends of the ball. This is a trend that is unlikely to change. Purdue’s offensive will struggle this year at times. They will need play making and transition offense to help sustain itself when Carsen Edwards isn’t torching defenses single-handedly. Eric Hunter Jr. has by far the highest upside on the team offensively and potentially defensively as well.
If Purdue finds themselves outplaying their expectations, a big reason will be that Hunter Jr. picks up the mantle from Carsen Edwards, Caleb Swanigan, and Nojel Eastern as being an impact true freshman.