Photo: Arnold Gold / Hearst Connecticut Media
The days of basketball players getting recruited to Division I colleges based on how they performed during the high school season are primarily in the past.
It’s now all about how players perform during the summertime, during the AAU season, in between their junior and senior years of high school. That’s where you get the most exposure.
If this were completely true all of the time, Jaylin Hunter would likely be heading to a prep school to play next season. That’s because after his junior season of high school in Nebraska and the ensuing summer, Hunter had no offers, or much interest, to move on.
“I was in a little bit of panic mode going into senior year. I didn’t have any offers,” Hunter said.
Hunter moved with his family from Nebraska to Bolton and enrolled at East Catholic. He hit his first shot of the season — a corner 3-pointer against Hillhouse — and the rest went from there.
Now Hunter, 18, has a second straight state championship to his credit and Division I offers to mull over — just like a State Player of the Year should have.
Hunter averaged 23 points, seven rebounds and six assists for East Catholic, which finished 27-1. Hunter earned State Player of the Year laurels for the Register/GameTimeCT in his one and only high school season in the Nutmeg State.
“The best thing I can say about Jaylin is he is a great teammate,” East Catholic coach Luke Reilly said. “Our group has had a lot of success. With that success come with a very high standard. Any time you have an elite player not willing to sacrifice, it’s not going to work. From day one, Jaylin embraced that standard. It’s a hard dynamic, for one year to come in and mesh with personalities. It’s a credit to him and a credit to the guys in the program willing to accept new guys.”
Hunter is the son of a college assistant men’s basketball coach, so moving due to a change in jobs comes with the territory. He spent his younger years in the Washington, D.C., area when Kenya Hunter served as an assistant at Georgetown University. Then the elder Hunter landed a job at Nebraska, where he spent five seasons.
Jaylin spent his first two high school seasons at Lincoln High in Nebraska, where he said he won 10 games in two seasons. So he transferred to Creighton Prep and subsequently won a state championship.
Jaylin said he found out around this time last year that his dad would become an assistant coach at UConn, shortly after Danny Hurley took over for Kevin Ollie. Jaylin said another Huskies’ assistant, Tom Moore, has a daughter attend East Catholic and Hurley’s son Andrew became a teammate there.
“I didn’t know anything about the schools here,” Jaylin said. “(My dad) heard Coach Reilly’s program had been successful for years, so we took a chance, a chance that worked out for myself and my family.”
Jaylin and his mom stayed behind in Nebraska after his dad came East to start his new coaching job. Then they came across the country to Bolton. So between school, his new neighborhood and at UConn, there were plenty of places for Jaylin to work on his skill set.
East Catholic was coming off a 25-1 season, its only loss in the Division I state tournament quarterfinals. Hunter joined a team featuring fellow guard Joey Reilly and forward Matt Knowling among others. The Eagles ran off another undefeated regular season.
In fact, the Eagles’ regular-season winning streak now stands at 58 games.
East Catholic rebounded off its lone loss to Windsor in the CCC tournament final by defeating the Warriors in the Division I final at the Mohegan Sun.
“There were a lot of different and similar feelings,” Jaylin said when asked about comparing the two state championships. “With East Catholic, it was a brotherhood the whole year with all the activities on and off the court made us closer as a family. We couldn’t lose this for each other, we did not want to let our brothers down and that helped us throughout the whole year.”
Jaylin Hunter scored 24 points in that final. He averaged 26 points in the three games against Windsor.
“He shot a very high percentage from three, he guarded the ball very well,” Reilly said. “He could be a ball-hound when he needed to be. He’s got great feet, great hands, he covered space quickly. He didn’t want to take a possession off. Add that altogether is what makes him special. It was always about the team, never about getting recruited or his own individual accolades.”
As Reilly indicated, Hunter also did it on the defensive end of the floor, as his two steals per game attest to.
“My dad told me, ‘If you don’t play defense, you’re not going to get very far,’” Jaylin said. “(Playing hard on defense) is very important. Personally, I don’t like when people score on me. I’ve definitely gotten better on defense thru my high school career.”
Oh,and as far as those offers go — Hunter made an official visit to Old Dominion last weekend (April 13-14) and makes one to Boston University the following weekend. He also said Atlantic-10 schools Davidson and St. Bonaventure have shown interest.
Reilly confirmed that Davidson coach Bob McKillop — who coached Steph Curry there — had recently paid a visit to the school after the season concluded.
“(Coaches) were flying in to see these kids. There were a ton of division I coaches in our gym during the winter,” Reilly said. “It’s not about the hype, the websites or the rankings. It’s about genuine offers and options. … His work ethic stands for the kind of teammate he is. He’s easy to root for as a coach. I’d do anything for him and give him the highest recommendation possible.”
And now, Jaylin Hunter has some decisions to make soon about his immediate future — ones he didn’t have at the tail end of last season.
“I’m definitely looking for a place where I can play right away or make some type of impact,” Hunter said. “I want to go somewhere to get a good education, to a (program) that will take care of me, not hang me out to dry and a good environment for four years to make me a better person.”