WSU's Johnson works Aussie recruiting magic

IT'S TRUE, says junior college coach Shawn Neary. Washington State has landed another commitment for its incoming freshman class: 6-10, 250-pound James Hunter. WSU assistant coach Ben Johnson, who has a long-established hoops pipeline to Australia, has done it again with Hunter, a Sydney native who played for Neary last season at Gillette College in Wyoming.

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While no official word has come from WSU and efforts to reach Hunter have been unsuccessful so far, Neary tells CF.C that his big man is going to be a Cougar. Asked if Hunter had verballed or signed with Washington State, Neary said he had signed.

"They liked his size," Neary said of WSU. "James is a big, strong kid who is dedicated to the weight room. He's going to continue to get more aggressive, and they saw the large upside in James -- his best days in basketball are for sure ahead of him even though he improved dramatically here this year. He has a willingness to work hard and they targeted him (in part) because of that. He'll be a good fit for them."

Hunter becomes the second big man in recent weeks to pledge with WSU. Oregon native and Iowa State transfer Jordan Railey (6-11, 245) recently cast his lot with the Cougs and just signed a financial aid agreement, WSU said today. He will sit out this season under NCAA transfer rules.

NEARY SAID WSU's recruitment of Hunter ramped up a couple of months ago, culminating in an official visit last week. In talking with Neary, the long recruiting reach of Johnson was evident.

"They saw us play early -- Coach Johnson has a lot of contacts in Australia. And he keeps tabs on a lot of guys he sees, he keeps tabs on all those guys. As the season ended for them I assume they probably went back and evaluated their needs, and James was available. I think it was just a really good fit for both," said Neary.

HUNTER, SAID NEARY, made "huge strides" in his game this past season as a redshirt freshman.

"He's really come along," said Neary. "He runs the floor well and has good hands, finishes well around the basket and has a good feel for low post play…Washington State has also recruited a great person, he's a high character guy who is going to work hard and he'll represent them very well. Everyone here at Gillette, we wish him nothing but the best."

Hunter in 30 games for Gillette this past season averaged 13 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 0.9 blocks a game. He shot 63 percent from the floor (159-of-253).

Hunter had offers from several mid-majors, including San Francisco and Southern Utah. He will be a sophomore this upcoming season with three-to-play-three at Wazzu, having used his redshirt year in 2010-11.

AT CRANBROOK HIGH near Sydney, Hunter averaged 26.5 points, 13.1 rebounds and 4.5 blocks per game his senior year and won an Australian high school championship in 2009. He was also named to the Australian Schoolboys' basketball team that year, and toured North Carolina playing against various American high schools.

In 2010 as a member of the Sydney Comets, Hunter averaged 28 points a game as the Comets won the title. Hunter was named the MVP of the league and also the top defensive player of the finals.

THE ADDITION OF Hunter adds intrigue to the Cougs' incoming recruiting class, possibly suggesting that 6-10 center Richard Peters, who still needs a qualifying score, might not make it in. Ongoing efforts to reach Peters have not been successful.

As it stands right now, the Cougars' new class includes Hunter, Peters, Railey*, Spokane's Brett Boese, Oakland's Richard Longrus, and Demarquise Johnson, Peters' teammate at Westwind Academy in Phoenix who also needs a qualifying SAT score. (*sitting out this season due to NCAA transfer rules).

  • Johnson, the Cougs' area recruiter in Australia, has helped bring Brock Motum, Aron Baynes and Dexter Kernich-Drew to Pullman. Johnson joined the WSU coaching staff in 2004 under then-head coach Dick Bennett, serving later under Tony Bennett and then Ken Bone the last three years. He played three years of professional basketball (1993-95) in Cairns, Australia.

  • Hunter's parents, Todd Hunter and Johanna Pigott, are recording artists and songwriters who had a pair of hit songs at the top of the charts in Australia in the 80s. Pigott is also a television screenwriter.

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