In many ways, Jerome Hunter is the forgotten man.
Forgotten that he was the second highest rated recruit — a top 60 recruit — in a class of 2018 group for IU that was ranked in the top 10 nationally.
Forgotten that he was expected to be one of the better shooters on a team that couldn’t knock down shots.
Forgotten that he was emerging last fall and on track to play a big role as a freshman.
“You bring in a very talented guy and he wasn’t able to impact our team past basically October and he was really playing well leading into that,” Indiana head coach Archie Miller told fans at an annual event at the Huber’s Winery earlier this week.
Hunter was playing so well that he earned the teams “gold jersey” in practice, indicating the top performing player of the week.
When Miller was asked at the time why Hunter earned the jersey he simply remarked “because he made a lot of shots.”
Seems like that might have come in handy for a team that shot 31.2% from three-point range (No. 316 nationally) and desperately needed front court players that could stretch the floor and create driving lanes for Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan.
Easy to forget — but now also water under the bridge.
The only pertinent question now is when will Hunter be cleared to play, or perhaps still more appropriate — will he ever be cleared to play?
Miller updated the 6-foot-7 forward’s status earlier this week.
“Jerome is in Bloomington,” Miller said. “He’s continuing with his rehabilitation. He’s been elevated in terms of his activity level. He’s doing a lot more individual stuff. But he’s far, far way of having any indication of any final decision on where he goes from here.”
The thing to keep in mind here is that Hunter is not dealing with an injury. Hunter’s issue has been described as a medical condition in his lower legs, although the precise diagnosis has not been disclosed. The condition required surgery in January and is apparently being delicately managed by Hunter’s doctors.
Miller went so far as to characterize Hunter’s status as still “very uncertain” on Wednesday night.
Hunter seems to have a more optimistic take on how things will play out. He challenged a fan on Twitter that suggested the outlook was not promising.
False facts 💯 https://t.co/422EVy0POW
— rome🏀💭 (@j_hunter35) May 31, 2019
Although Hunter is not cleared to play next year, he is by no means sitting around waiting for the green light.
It has been a very active spring for the Ohio native.
“He’s upped his activity level,” Miller said. “He’s been cleared to do a lot of basketball one-on-one activity. There’s no playing for him right now, so he’s basically in rehabilitation with Tim Garl and our doctors. He does a plan in the morning, he then lifts weights in the afternoon, and then in the evening time he’s on the floor doing some more agility work just to build his conditioning level and his stamina and just trying to get his feet back under him.”
Miller indicated that more should be known regarding Hunter’s status around August.
Could Hunter have completely changed the narrative around a team that was part of the “last four out” of the 2019 NCAA Tournament? Absolutely.
Indiana was a shot maker away from several wins. Jerome Hunter is a shot maker, and even just one more win would have sent Indiana to the big dance and seemingly lifted a dark cloud of doubt about the direction of the program.
“It’s a very unfortunate thing,” Miller said. “It’s life.”
For Hunter and IU fans alike, lessons are being learned. Sometimes things just don’t go your way. But it’s how you respond that ultimately defines you.
“He’s having to learn a hard lesson right now for the first time, and sometimes that happens,” Miller said.
A healthy Jerome Hunter can completely change the outlook for this team. Granted a redshirt season, he is in effect once again a freshman coming into the 2019-20 season, with the benefit of having a year of college and a year in Miller’s system under his belt.
“He’s got great size and he can really shoot the ball,” Miller said.
There’s probably no combination of abilities that was missing more from last year’s team than a guy with size that can shoot the ball.
Along with a similar story with Race Thompson, and the addition of Joey Brunk, Trayce Jackson-Davis and Armaan Franklin — this team has the potential to have a completely different look in November.
But the calendar says June.
And for now, we wait.
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