Sam Hunt was all set to head to California.
After completing two years at North Carolina A&T in his hometown of Greensboro, Hunt, with a business economics degree in his hand, was ready to complete his final year of college eligibility elsewhere, so he committed to head coach Damon Stoudamire at the University of Pacific and was prepared to head west to Stockton, Calif. That was the plan. But the thing about plans is they can change in an instant.
Hunt asked for his release from the Aggies and it was granted and he committed to Pacific in April. Then he got a call from North Carolina State assistant coach Takayo Siddle. Siddle recruited Hunt while he was a senior at Dudley High School and Siddle was an assistant at Gardner-Webb. Hunt also had a previous relationship with current Wolfpack director of basketball operations Thomas Carr from his coaching days at George Washington High School in Danville, Va.
So when the recruiting process started over again for Hunt, the relationships he built with Siddle and Carr from their previous stop seemed to pave his way to Raleigh. Both coaches called Hunt and he took an unofficial visit to Raleigh and met with new head coach Kevin Keatts.
“From the first conversation we had I could tell he was a genuine guy,” Hunt said. “He wasn’t just talking about basketball and that’s one thing that really caught my eye. Right after the conversation I knew this was where I wanted to be, I knew I wanted to play in the ACC. That’s how I got here.”
Hunt made the announcement official the day he graduated from North Carolina A&T, informing friends and family at a post-graduation dinner thrown by his mother.
Hunt was leaving a situation at A&T where he was the guy. He averaged double digits in scoring his sophomore (15.4) and junior seasons (12.7), leading the team in scoring both years. He started 55 games in two seasons in Greensboro, and led the Aggies in minutes per game (34.4) in 2016-17, eight more per game than any other player. Hunt scored in double figures in 44 of the 60 games he played at A&T, so he was getting the shots and minutes he wanted.
What he really wanted, however, was a shot to play in the ACC. But when he came to N.C. State to visit, he didn’t even want to see the campus. He knew anything he saw on campus or at the facilities would top anything he’s seen on any other visit.
“I didn’t want to be sold on the things I saw or the resources (State) had,” Hunt said. “I just wanted to talk to Coach Keatts.”
Even when they offered, Hunt hesitated to commit. He then talked to his dad, who told Hunt “this is what you always wanted.”
“When he said that (I knew) it was the right thing to do,” Hunt said.
Coming from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) to the ACC, Hunt admitted he was nervous. But deep down inside he knew he had put in the work and was confident in his ability to play at this level. He didn’t know what he was getting himself into coming to the ACC, but from the first time he worked out with his new teammates, any doubt quickly disappeared.
“The guys were shocked because I was coming from a lower-level school and I was working just as hard as they were,” Hunt said.
During the summer Hunt, along with fellow transfers Devon Daniels, Torin Dorn, Allerik Freeman and C.J. Bryce, practically lived at the Dail Center, N.C. State’s on-campus basketball facility. The group would work out in the morning, then play one-on-one the rest of the day. That’s when Hunt realized he could score on those guys, defend and keep up with players on this level.
At A&T Hunt was always on the top of the opposing teams’ scouting reports. At N.C. State, Hunt has come off the bench all season, averaging 5.6 ppg this season. He’s surrounded by a bunch of talent at State, but the last four games he has been on a tear.
The lefty came into the season known for his three-point shooting, and has shot 15-for-18 from three, dating back to a road win at Syracuse on Valentine’s Day. In the last two games – wins over Boston College and Florida State – Hunt has gone 8-for-8 from three. The Syracuse game was the only time in the last four games that Hunt even attempted a shot from inside three-point range. Before that, the last time he had attempted a two-point field goal was Dec. 30, the ACC opener at Clemson.
“My job is not hard,” Hunt said. “My job is to play hard, defend and make open shots.”
Hunt gave credit to N.C. State graduate assistant Kevin Canevari for putting in extra work in the gym, and that’s what has led to the hot hand the last few games.
“My coaches, they believe in me. My teammates have confidence in me,” Hunt said.
Having watched the ACC on television growing up, Hunt has had his surreal moments. He dropped his head and admitted he rooted for North Carolina growing up, since former Tar Heels Brendan Haywood, Will Graves and P.J. Hairston all graduated from Dudley. He was a little star struck when he first saw UNC head coach Roy Williams and Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Warming up before the Wolfpack’s 96-85 win over the Blue Devils on Jan. 6, Dorn, who transferred to North Carolina State from Charlotte, shouted to Hunt, “This is why we came here.”
Hunt, probably more so than some of his teammates, appreciates every little moment of big-time basketball, from the police escorts to the arena, to chartered flights around the country for games, because he has seen both sides.
“When guys start complaining, I tell them, ‘Y’all don’t get it,’ ” Hunt said. “I’ve come from a whole different world. I tell the guys all the time that they don’t know what it’s like to struggle in college, so be thankful for it.”
Hunt still follows A&T, which has made one of the biggest turnarounds in college basketball. After going 3-39 overall last season and 1-15 in the MEAC, the Aggies are 18-12 overall this season and 11-4 in league play, in first place in the MEAC standings and on pace to win their first regular season title in 26 years. Hunt is happy for his former school, but has zero regrets about his current situation, where N.C. State has won 20 games and should be playing in the NCAA tournament in a few weeks.
“I’m happy that I’m here,” Hunt said. “I’m enjoying every bit of success we are having here.”