Culver, Hunter Raise NBA Draft Stock On NCAA’s Biggest Stage

Tournament stars De’Andre Hunter and Jarrett Culver will continue their rise as Top 10 picks in the 2019 NBA Draft.

Most basketball analysts predicted that action in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship game between Virginia and Texas Tech would be liking watching paint dry. Both teams are known for their defensive prowess. Neither ranks among the Top 150 college teams in scoring. 

It wasn’t Duke-Kentucky, but the title game was actually entertaining as Virginia pulled away in overtime for an 85-77 win.

 

The way some folks on social media described it, the NCAA Championship would be a bust because none of Duke’s heralded freshman — most notably Zion Williamson — would be playing.

Looking past the hype that influences the casual basketball fan with no true knowledge of the abundance of talent in college hoops, there were two potential future NBA stars competing against each other.

“The hype has always been around the Duke guys all year, but some of the guys that have been consistently great like De’Andre Hunter, like Jarrett Culver, don’t get that much praise,” Virginia sophomore Jayden Nixon told CBS Sports. “But they know the fruits of their labor are working. Both teams have their top two guys, and the top two teams are in the championship.”

Virginia junior De’Andre Hunter and Texas Tech sophomore guard Jarrett Culver are both expected to be Top 10 picks in the upcoming 2019 NBA Draft.

Hunter’s performance in the NCAA Finals on Monday night improves his stock as a big game performer. ESPN’s Jay Williams says Hunter could be a “Top 5 pick” after his hitting some dagger threes at the end of regulation and playing sick defense in overtime to lift Virginia to its first-ever national title. 

The ACC Defensive Player of the Year has consistently shown an ability to defend, drawing comparisons to Kawhi Leonard. He averaged 14.9 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 2.0 apg, 42.0% from 3 on the season as a guy who can score in various ways. Hunter had a dope sophomore season in 2017-18, but broke his left wrist and had to helplessly watch Virginia’s infamous loss to No. 16 seed UMBC from the bench. 

Scouts say he could have gone pro after that loss, but Hunter returned with his eyes on the prize. His dual abilities helped Virginia become the 4th team to win a national championship the season immediately following a loss in the Round of 64. The 6-foot-7 baller will probably reap the benefits of this season by becoming the highest-drafted Cavaliers player since Ralph Sampson went No. 1 in 1983.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett says Hunter’s just scratching the surface of his abilities. 

Meanwhile, Texas Tech’s future NBA baller struggled. Culver made just five of his 22 shots for 15 points and missed all six of his 3s. The poor shooting performance can largely be attributed to Hunter and UVA’s ferocious D. Before Monday’s championship flop, the 6-foot-5 Culver was having a strong Tournament averaging about 21 points, 6.5 rebounds, over four assists and two steals. CBS Sports draft analyst Rip Hamilton still has him going as high as seventh in the draft.

It was also reported that Knicks team president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry took the trip to Tulsa, Okla. last week to get “one more look” at Culver’s game, an NBA source told The Post’s Marc Berman. If the Knicks fall to the third pick, Culver could be on the radar. 

Like Hunter, Culver’s two-way game is an invaluable skill set.  A dogged defender, he led the nation in defensive win shares, according to sports-reference.

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Culver’s also a legit scorer, has playmaker abilities and handles. Plus he’s a gym rat who studies the moves of Kobe and Jamal Crawford religiously. He’s been described as “a more athletic Ryan Anderson, a Paul George-type of player where he just uses his skills to beat you.”

The NCAA Tourney was presented as a game between two defensive powerhouses with no superstars until Hunter introduced the basketball world to his brand of balling. Hunter capitalized on the moment more than Culver, but even with their March Madness success, neither player’s ever gotten the rock star treatment that Duke’s Fab Freshman received.  So both will get a chance to change that perception in the NBA, where skills rather than marketing and promotion determine who the next superstars will be.

JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.