The Journal Gazette
Thursday, May 13, 2021 8:20 pm

Jerome Hunter leaving IU basketball

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

Indiana's offseason roster carousel unexpectedly began spinning again Thursday.

Since coach Mike Woodson took the reigns of the basketball program in late March, the Hoosiers have had three players depart via the transfer portal, two transfers join the team and also signed a five-star recruit. The shakeup continued Thursday when Indiana announced that small forward Jerome Hunter, who would have been a redshirt junior in 2021-22, is leaving the program.

“We appreciate everything that Jerome has done as a member of the program and wish him nothing but the best in the future," Woodson said in a statement.

Hunter had an up-and-down career with the Hoosiers, showing flashes of the prolific scorer and long, athletic defender that made him an elite recruit coming out of high school in Pickerington, Ohio, but never quite blossoming into an every-game contributor.

The 6-foot-7 wing averaged 6.3 points and 3.0 rebounds in his redshirt sophomore season with Indiana, shooting 43.4% from the field and 34.2% from beyond the 3-point line. The latter figure was third on the team, behind only Armaan Franklin and Al Durham. With Hunter's departure, each of Indiana's top three 3-point shooters from last season has left the program. Fixing the Hoosiers' 3-point shooting, which was never higher than 219th in the country during former coach Archie Miller's four-year tenure, is one of Woodson's top priorities. The offseason departures make that task more difficult.

Hunter was the 59th-ranked recruit in the country during the 2018 cycle, the top player in Indiana's class before five-star guard Romeo Langford chose the Hoosiers. Although Langford was the jewel of the class, it was expected that Hunter might also reach an All-Big Ten level of play and would probably have a more long-term impact on the program than Langford, who was expected to (and did) leave for the NBA after one year with the team. The 2018 class was the high point of Miller's tenure, a group that was supposed to launch Indiana back into the upper echelons of the Big Ten and lay the groundwork for future classes.

Instead, Langford, though he averaged more than 16 points in his one season in Bloomington, was hurt much of his time with the program; Hunter missed all of 2018-19 with a mysterious leg injury and never became the star that many thought he'd be in high school; Jake Forrester and Damezi Anderson transferred after contributing little and only Rob Phinisee is still with the program. Even Phinisee's development has stalled after a promising for freshman season. The underperformance of the 2018 class is one of the most direct causes for Miller's tenure at Indiana ending without an NCAA Tournament appearance.

For his part, Hunter returned for his redshirt freshman season, when he averaged 3.8 points and 2.1 rebounds. The injury slowed his development, however, and he admitted during the 2020-21 season that he was just getting back to the comfort level he had on defense when he was in high school, three years earlier. He was a defensive stopper in high school, but he frequently struggled to keep his man out of the paint against Big Ten opponents and it's likely the injury had something to do with that problem, possibly sapping some of his quickness.

Hunter's departure comes several weeks after Indiana added Northwestern transfer Miller Kopp, a fellow 6-7 wing who likely would have competed with Hunter for minutes. The pair would have also had to hold off a challenge from 6-6 Jordan Geronimo, who flashed outstanding athleticism and defensive instincts as a freshman last season. 

Before Hunter left, Indiana seemed to have its roster set for 2021-22, with all 13 scholarship roster spots filled. Now, there is another scholarship open and Indiana will likely return to the transfer portal once again. Kopp and former Pittsburgh guard Xavier Johnson have already transferred into the program this offseason, while fellow transfer Parker Stewart joined the team during Miller's final season and will see his first game action in the fall. Incoming freshmen Logan Duncomb and Tamar Bates will also be new faces on the IU roster for the upcoming season.

Among the players in the transfer portal Indiana has contacted in recent days is 7-0 South Florida center Michael Durr, who had committed to Virginia Tech before re-opening his recruitment Monday. He had a meeting with the entire Indiana staff, including Woodson, earlier this week. Durr averaged 8.8 points and 7.9 rebounds last season. 

Indiana could use some depth at center after losing veteran Joey Brunk to a transfer. Woodson has insisted he wants to play Trayce Jackson-Davis at power forward more often this season, because that's where the All-American will get minutes in the NBA. As the roster stands now, however, the only candidates to play center would be Race Thompson, who is just 6-8 and would be undersized against some of the Big Ten's elite big men, and the 6-9 Duncomb, who has not yet played a college game. A player like Durr would alleviate many of those concerns, letting Thompson and Jackson-Davis play their natural positions and giving Duncomb time to develop.

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