As he and his basketball profile grew while in high school — from a scrawny 6-foot-3 sophomore point guard with a few low- and mid-major scholarship offers to a gangly 6-6 shooter with several big-name programs vying for his signature after his junior year — Kevin Huerter didn’t change.
Confident about his abilities, yet humble about his emerging stature as the star at Shenendehowa High. Comfortable in the spotlight, yet slightly embarrassed by all the attention he was receiving compared with his teammates, especially older brother Thomas.
Now, on the verge of becoming the first Maryland player to be selected in the first round of the NBA draft since Alex Len went No. 5 overall to the Phoenix Suns after his sophomore year in 2013, Huerter remains the same kid who stuck out as much for his bright red hair as he did for his athletic abilities in basketball and baseball.
Which explains, at least in part, why the 19-year-old Huerter will see his seemingly dazzling future unfold surrounded by family, friends and neighbors near his home in Clifton Park, N.Y., during Thursday night’s NBA draft.
According to his father Tom, Huerter turned down an invitation from the league to be in the “green room” at Barclays Center in a Brooklyn, N.Y., and will watch the event on a big-screen television at a local country club with “under 200 people,” including his parents, three siblings, close relatives, former high school teammates and coaches along with well-wishers who simply want to share the moment with him.
“I still have a great connection with home and Shen, and have always felt tremendous support from everyone around not only Clifton Park but the 518 [area code for Albany and surrounding communites],” Huerter texted last week. “Coming from an area that doesn’t produce professional athletes on a yearly basis, I think I’ve received a lot of support just based on what I’m doing [that hasn’t been done] in a long time in my area. Some people are just as excited as I am.”
After a whirlwind process that began in April when he put his name into the draft without signing with an agent, Huerter will probably not have to wait long to hear his name called by NBA commissioner Adam Silver. Huerter is expected to go in the first round “somewhere between 16 and 24,” according to one NBA general manager who would comment only on the condition of anonymity.
Huerter, who came to Maryland two years ago as a fast-rising but relatively overlooked four-star prospect (No. 49 overall by ESPN) and ended his college career May 30 by keeping his name in the draft, has seen his stock rise faster and more dramatically than nearly any other player being given serious first-round consideration.
Since going through private workouts in Boston and Brooklyn before the NBA scouting combine in Chicago and in subsequent workouts in Atlanta and Los Angeles, the now-6-7 Huerter has gone from being considered by most as an early- to mid-second-round choice to a player reportedly coveted by many teams in the first round because of his size, deep and accurate shooting, creative passing skills and overall basketball acumen.
It didn’t surprise Huerter that his performance at the combine left such a positive impression.
“I knew it’d be only a matter of time before people saw my full game,” Huerter texted. “Similarly when I was going through the college recruiting process I was under the radar. Then I played in one tournament for my AAU team and all of a sudden got a ton of interest and offers one weekend, simply because teams hadn’t seen me play before. The same thing happened at the combine. … I was able to showcase my talents.”
College basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb wasn’t surprised, either.
“The NBA values length, basketball IQ and skill, Kevin has all of the above listed,” Gottlieb texted Sunday. “Additionally he can play and guard multiple positions. Add in some upstate NY toughness and he is a really good player.”
Maryland coach Mark Turgeon added: “I haven’t had a player whose stock has risen like this since the combine. … He’s a shooter and the NBA is looking for shooters. He obviously showed that skill very well in Chicago. Additionally he showed a great feel for the game. I think his passing ability, which we really know he had and he showed during his time here, really helped his stock rise after the combine.”
SI.com reported recently that Huerter, who is being represented by Chicago-based Mark Bartelstein (who also reps former Terps standout Jake Layman of the Portland Trail Blazers), has received a promise from the Utah Jazz that they will select him at No. 21. Other outlets have reported that the Jazz might have to trade up just to get Huerter to make sure he is available.
”I think he has a promise that he will go in the 20s,” the same general manager said.
It is believed that promise came from either the Jazz or possibly the Los Angeles Lakers. Two days after what was reported to be an impressive workout in Los Angeles, Huerter canceled a similar workout scheduled in Salt Lake City and returned home to confer with his family about whether to keep his name in the draft.
It is heady stuff for a player who, despite coming to College Park as New York State’s Mr. Basketball and having two solid seasons with the Terps, was not named to the Big Ten all-freshman team and earned only honorable mention as a sophomore after Maryland’s disappointing 19-13 season that resulted in the program failing to get a postseason bid for the first time in four years.
Asked whether the past few weeks have been a bit overwhelming, Huerter texted: “Overwhelming isn’t the word, busy is probably better. From the moment I declared for the draft my life has changed, just because of all the added attention and different things I had to do to get ready for the combine and team workouts.
“This next step has been just like any other jump to another level that I’ve had in my life. When I first played at Shen, everything took a step up. Then when I committed to Maryland, everything took a step up. But right now I am just trying to enjoy every moment like I always have.”
Overshadowed going into last season by teammate and fellow sophomore Justin Jackson, who was selected to the Big Ten’s preseason first team, as well as at the end by sophomore point guard Anthony Cowan Jr., who was named third-team All-Big Ten as well as put on the league’s all-defensive team, Huerter was among the 69 players invited to the NBA combine last month in Chicago. (Jackson was invited too, but was unable to work out because he had not fully recovered from the torn labrum in his right shoulder that required surgery in January.)
”His statistical profile was fantastic and a lot of teams were only on to him because of his stats,” said the general manager, referring mainly to Huerter’s 41.7 percent 3-point shooting and 50.1 percent overall shooting along with other analytical data that highlighted his offensive efficiency.
Huerter’s stock shot up in Chicago, where he tested well in terms of shooting (hitting 15 of 15 3-pointers in one drill) and athleticism (where he was among the top players in terms of agility and jumping ability) along with making enough of an impression in the first scrimmage that he sat out the second because of an injury on his shooting hand that he suffered late last season.
Since Chicago, Huerter has been mentioned in most mock drafts as a first-round choice and linked to several teams picking from 17 to 30. A number of media outlets have Huerter going to either the Jazz or the Lakers, who are at No. 25.
In an interview after his son announced that he was staying in the draft, Tom Huerter said one of the benefits of turning pro is that the spacing of the NBA game fits his son’s game.
Erin Huerter told a local newspaper that she thought her son should seize the opportunity of a first-round guarantee this year rather than taking a chance next year, despite being told by NBA scouts and executives at the combine that he could even be a lottery pick after his junior year.
As a first-round draft choice, Huerter would receive a three-year guaranteed contract that, depending on where he is chosen, could pay him in excess of $2 million a year.
Still, Huerter wrestled with the decision because of how much he enjoyed Maryland. A Big Ten honor roll selection as both a second-semester freshman and a first-semester sophomore, Huerter embraced the life he was leading in College Park.
“The weight of the world was on his shoulders the past few days,” Tom Huerter, who played college basketball at Siena from 1987 through 1991, said the day after his son made his decision.
Despite getting surgery recently to repair the torn ligaments in his right hand that will prevent him from playing in the NBA summer league — yet another indication that his future with one franchise has been secured — the only uncertainty remaining seems to be Huerter’s destination.
Watching the draft will be a new experience for Huerter, since he was typically playing summer league baseball by this time in June when the draft was held.
“I know the magnitude of the moment, and how cool and life-changing it will be to hear my name called,” he texted last week. “But everything probably won’t hit me until either that moment when I’m called or shortly after where I’ll be able to step back and appreciate my achievements up to this point.”