NEW YORK — De’Andre Hunter knew what was about to happen.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was about to call his name, announcing him as the No. 4 selection in the 2019 NBA Draft. That didn’t make the moment Thursday evening any less novel.
“My heart was beating out my chest,” Hunter said. “It’s kind of hard to explain. I just wanted to hug my family. I just wanted to share the moment with them.”
Hunter stepped atop the Barclays Center stage, plopped a Los Angeles Lakers hat atop his head and shook Silver’s hand. Photos were taken to memorialize the event, but as Hunter addressed the media the hat sat backwards on the table, the Lakers logo out of sight.
The Lakers reportedly traded the No. 4 pick to the New Orleans Pelicans last week in the Anthony Davis trade, but NBA trades can’t be made official until July 6. The Pelicans then sent that pick to the Atlanta Hawks a couple hours before the draft, according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
Hunter said he learned of the trade from former Virginia teammate Kyle Guy.
“Kyle Guy texted me. He said, ‘Yeah!’ I was like, ‘What are you talking about?’ He said, ‘The Hawks traded up to four,’” Hunter said. “I was pretty happy about that.”
The Hawks departed with the No. 8, No. 17 and No. 35 picks to move up and select Hunter, and got back Solomon Hill, the No. 57 pick and a future second round picks from New Orleans. Hunter was flattered by the Hawks’ initiative.
“It shows that they believe in me, that they have trust in me,” Hunter said. “They have a plan for me. They think I’m a great player. I’m just hoping to help the franchise any way I can.”
Some prognosticators claim Hunter has a low ceiling, that he’ll make for a nice 3-and-D wing but not a superstar. Hunter sees things differently.
“I think I have the potential to be whatever I want to be,” Hunter said. “Whatever they label me as right now really doesn’t matter. I haven’t played one game yet. None of these guys have. We’ll see in a couple months.”
The former Virginia guard was one of 22 players sitting in the NBA Draft Green Room when his name was called. He was accompanied by his older brother, Aaron, and his mother, Priscilla.
Hunter averaged 15.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and two assists this past season for the Cavaliers, leading the team to the first NCAA Tournament championship in program history.
The Philadelphia native showed steady growth throughout his college career, after redshirting his first year on Grounds. He earned ACC Sixth Man of the Year honors in 2017-18, then was named the NABC National Defensive Player of the Year this past season.
In Virginia’s national championship win over Texas Tech, Hunter hit a 3-pointer to tie the game late in regulation, then another to put the Cavaliers ahead for good in overtime. He did so while shutting down Texas Tech guard Jarrett Culver, who was chosen with the No. 6 pick in Thursday’s draft, in the extra period.
Hunter joins a Hawks team with an exciting young core, spearheaded by Trae Young, who averaged 19.1 points and 8.1 assists per game last season as a rookie. Forward John Collins and guard Kevin Huerter are also among Atlanta’s core. Hunter will also team up with former Virginia legend Justin Anderson, a three-year NBA veteran with whom Hunter said he has a “tight relationship.”
In a draft class full of players who left college after one season, the 21-year-old Hunter earned praise for his maturity and quiet confidence. The mellow-mannered Hunter has attributed his success in part to the support of his family, and on Tuesday his brother gifted him a chain affixed to a pendant featuring a photo of an infant De’Andre being held by his late father, Aaron, who died when Hunter was 7.
Hunter said he was a “bad kid” growing up, noting his father would chide him for troubles in school. After his father died, Hunter said, his mother became “my mom and my dad,” driving him to school 45 minutes away every morning. He found himself thinking about his father in the days leading up to the draft, and he proudly displayed the pendant Thursday over his black tie.
“He’s seeing everything I’m seeing right now,” Hunter said. “He’s here with me.”