Jerome Hunter is still relatively new to the game of basketball. While only playing organized hoops for three years, Hunter has made tremendous strides in his development, so much so to where he's a primary target for many high-major programs in the region.
With Ohio State, West Virginia and Xavier among the programs most involved, Hunter has a keen appreciation for the Buckeyes, who visited the 6'7 Pickerington North forward on Wednesday for open gym. Inviting Hunter to Saturday's football contest against Northern Illinois, it will be the third time the Buckeyes have hosted the Nova Village forward on campus.
"He's been the most consistent kid in our club since he started training in the summer of 2013, he rarely misses a workout, and he keeps distractions at a minimum," Andreas James, Hunter's trainer and AAU coach, said of his development. "I've never seen a kid in such a short period of time develop from a block to block back to the basket post player to a multi-positional player, capable of playing the 1-5.
"He has God-given talent accompanied with a determination to continue to improve, he excels at his strengths, but works diligently on areas of improvement. Most important, he's focusing on his academics, he's a good teammate, son and friend."
James admitted he was blown away with Hunter's progress in the last two and a half years, but feels that the next three years could be even more promising for the 6'7 wing.
Hunter, who I first evaluated in the spring of 2014, has been intriguing from the word "go." Always having great length and a slender frame, it was Hunter, who slammed down a hard one-hand jam in a middle and high school All-Star event at the age of 14, that really caught my eye. Showing incredible improvement in his skill set in the 17 months since, Hunter has developed a reliable handle, a consistent mid-range jump shot, and has shown to be an unselfish playmaker on the offensive end.
However, in those 17 months since starring at Monroe Middle School on the near east side of Columbus, Hunter has taken a route far less traveled to get to where he is now.
As the headline prospect in a star-studded 2018 class at startup Columbus City Prep last fall, Hunter played just a half season of high school ball as a freshman. Due to City Prep only having eighth and ninth grade students at the time, Hunter and his team were forced to play nothing but freshman and junior varsity teams in his half season with the program.
As instability and confusion around City Prep's academic standing rocked the program, Hunter led a mass exodus of the program's top players to leave City Prep, as the 6-foot-7 wing forward enrolled at Pickerington North right after the new year. Fearing that Hunter could lose an entire year of academic credit and be forced to reclassify to catch up, the move to Pickerington North has been a good one on all accounts for the rising sophomore.
"For Jerome to have an opportunity to play for a well respected coach in Jason Bates, attend a school with great facilities, graduation rates, support, tradition and joining what may be the top sophomores class in the state, to me is a win all across the board," James said. "I see him growing as a person and a player at Pick North."
In one of the area's strongest districts for academics and athletics, Hunter is the top prospect for a Panther program entering its second season under head coach Jason Bates, who led a revitalization at City League power Walnut Ridge for nearly a decade before arriving in Pickerington.
"I've seen vast improvement both on and off the court. With basketball, he has been a sponge. Both during the summer and during our pre-season program. He is a student of the game," Bates said of Hunter. "He's always asking questions and having conversations with our coaching staff to build on his basketball knowledge. He trains relentlessly, and seems to add something new to his game week to week. His ball-handling, shooting and explosiveness are probably the most noticeable skills that he has improved over the course of the year."
Hunter is the headline prospect on a team that includes talented underclassmen Khiry Shelton (6'8 C / 2017), Eli McNamara (6'6 SF / 2018), Dondre Palmer (6'4 SF / 2018) and Ty Wiley (5'10 PG / 2018), all of whom could have a chance to land at the Division I level.
As Pickerington North is looking to climb into the top half of an absolutely stacked Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio division that includes Pickerington Central, Gahanna and Newark, three teams that have all played in the Division I state final four since 2008, Hunter is a large piece of that goal for the Panthers.
But before Hunter's high school team takes the hardwood in December, the Ohio State target is focused first and foremost on his most important developmental area, which has been academically. Getting a chance to suit up in his first real season of high school basketball, and at a high level, is a nice bonus too.
"In the classroom, as with most freshmen, there was an adjustment period to the rigor of high school academics. But as a sophomore, he is really off to a great start," Bates said. "He came back this year with an increased focus and a better understanding of what it takes to be an elite student-athlete. It's honestly hard to believe his growth from when he first arrived in January."
Check out some recent highlights of Hunter from earlier this week. He appears at the :30 mark.