Mike Woodson said he likes to keep the details of transfer decisions in house, but on a Zoom call with reporters on Wednesday, he suggested that forward Jerome Hunter’s decision to transfer from Indiana to Xavier was a mutual one.
“We decided to part ways,” Woodson said. ” … We just didn’t mix the way I think I wanted it to be between he and I. That’s no knock against him because I think he’s an excellent kid. We decided to part ways. He understood. I understood. He left here and still landed on his feet at Xavier. All I can do is wish him nothing but the best.”
Hunter has not responded to multiple calls and voice mails from the Daily Hoosier since his departure. Days after Hunter’s transfer was announced, South Florida center Michael Durr announced that he was transferring to Indiana, claiming the available scholarship.
Hunter arrived at Indiana in the Class of 2018 with a strong reputation, ranked No. 59 in the class in the 247Sports.com composite rankings. The 6-foot-7, 220-pounder from Pickerington North High School in Columbus, Ohio, had an excellent first preseason, but it ended abruptly because of a still undisclosed leg condition that required surgery and cost him his entire first season. He never seemed to fully recover from that lost time and he started a total of just four games and averaged 16.7 minutes per game combined in the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons at Indiana. Former Indiana coach Archie Miller suggested he had the talent to be an All-Big Ten performer, but he averaged just 4.9 points per game in his two seasons, including 6.3 points per game in 2020-21.
Because of his size and ability to hit 3-pointers, Hunter seemed to be a good fit for the four-out, one-in, NBA-style offense Woodson plans to bring to Indiana and his initial reactions to Woodson’s hiring were positive for that reason. However, Woodson brought in Northwestern transfer Miller Kopp, another big wing who can shoot 3-point shots, which seemed to infringe on Hunter’s ability to earn minutes as a small forward or stretch power forward.
Hunter made 44 3-pointers in his two seasons at Indiana, but hit on a modest 32.4 percent of his attempts.
“He was a guy that could make them,” Woodson said, “but his percentage didn’t show that.”
With Hunter gone, the Hoosiers return just two players who hit more than 10 3-pointers at Indiana last season in guards Rob Phinisee (25) and Khristian Lander (12), and both of them shot under 30 percent from beyond the arc. However, transfers Kopp, Parker Stewart and Xavier Johnson have all shown some ability to make 3-pointers at their previous schools and incoming freshman Tamar Bates also has a strong reputation as an outside shooter. Even the 7-foot Durr has shown some ability to hit from outside, making four of 20 attempts last season.
That makes Woodson hopeful but not certain that he has the outside shooting he needs to make the offense click.
“I think Michael, the big center can make threes, to be honest with you,” Woodson said. “But I think Miller (Kopp) was a guy that we had to address, because I think he can play 2, 3, and 4 at his size. He possesses a weapon in being able to shoot the long ball. I think Tamar Bates, until he gets here from AAU and watching him play, he’s shown he can make it, but now you got to show me you can make it at the next level. Xavier is more of a streaky guy. He is more in between the three-point line, and I didn’t bring him in as a knock-down 3. So really to answer your question, I’m still searching in the future for guys that can make the long ball.”
Woodson said he was also hoping to work with the returners to make them better shooters, including forward Race Thompson, wing Trey Galloway and Phinisee. Thompson and Galloway were decent if not great 3-point shooters as high school players and Phinisee has hit 75 in his three seasons at Indiana but they combined to make 34 of their 144 attempts last season (23.6 percent) last season. Thompson, Phinisee and Galloway rank second, third and fourth behind All-American center Trayce Jackson-Davis in minutes among returners from last season.
“We are going to work with Thompson as we go down the road because he’s going to have an opportunity to step out and be in that position to make shots,” Woodson said. “Same with Galloway and guys like that. Phinisee is streaky in his shooting, but these are things we all got to work on. This is our team as we move forward, and we are going to have to put the time in on the floor in terms of shooting the ball. Even from a free throw standpoint, because they just weren’t a great free throw shooting team. All those areas got to be cleaned up if you’re talking about competing big time in the Big Ten.”
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