Only three years ago, Kevin Huerter’s opponents on the basketball court were high- schoolers from Saratoga Springs, Colonie and Bethlehem. These days, he’s facing the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Huerter, a 6’7″ guard who grew up in Clifton Park and led Shenendehowa High School to a state championship as a junior, has shined in his rookie season with the Eastern Conference’s Atlanta Hawks.
I covered a few of Huerter’s high-school games back in the day and was impressed with his all-around skillset: He could shoot, handle the ball, get to the rim and set up teammates with precision passing. What stood out to me the most, though, was his cerebral approach to the game. And I assumed he’d bring those skills with him to the University of Maryland, where he’d flourish at the collegiate level. What I never imagined was that he’d leave college after just two years, get drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft and immediately become one of the top rookies in the league.
The 20-year-old star-in-the-making has already secured a spot in Atlanta’s starting lineup and scored in double figures 26 times in 54 games, including a 29-point effort in a victory against the Philadelphia 76ers. I recently caught up with Huerter to talk about his budding career and this year’s Hawks team.
When did you realize that you had a chance of playing in the NBA? After all, it’s only been a very short period of time since you were a high school and college student.
I started thinking it was possible after my freshman year in college, but I wasn’t thinking I would leave after two years. I haven’t had a lot of time to think about it, but yeah, it has been a lot of change in a short time. I still follow my high-school team when I can, and it’s crazy to think the players on it are not that much younger than I am.
When you initially declared for the NBA draft, you held off on hiring an agent and tested the waters at the draft combine before turning pro. Was it a difficult decision to leave college early, or had you already made up your mind that it was the right choice?
It was the hardest decision of my life, and I went back and forth on it a lot. When I made the decision, I was confident it was the right one. After being drafted in the first round, I certainly have no regrets.
You’re almost 60 games into your first NBA season. How’s your body holding up to the physical demands of the job?
The coaches and veteran guys just stressed to me that it would be a long year and that it was important to take care of my body. You have to make
the most of your days off from a recovery standpoint and do the right things for the long haul. It’s tough, but
I feel good physically.
The Hawks’ roster features ten player age 25 or younger. After a tough start to the season, you guys have shown some dramatic improvement. What’s the excitement level in the organization with all the young and developing talent?
We definitely see it as a long road ahead, because we’re so young. But we’re getting better and developing, and even though we’re losing more than we’d like to, we are learning and moving forward. There’s definitely a lot of excitement for the future.
Your teammate Vince Carter was the NBA Rookie of the Year the year you were born, 1998. What’s it been like to have a potential futureHall of Famer on the roster for such a young team?
It’s definitely beneficial to have a guy like that around. He teaches us little things every day. He’s been through it all, and you try to learn as much as you can, because he’s been so successful. It’s cool to have him in our locker room.
What’s been your favorite moment so far this season?
For me personally, the game where I scored 29 points in Philadelphia was my best as a pro so far, and it was a big road win. We had a pretty good two-week stretch there, where we grinded out some big road wins.
Your red hair has led to some interesting nicknames: “Red Mamba,” “Red Dot,” for your shooting precision, and even “Red Velvet.” Do you have a favorite nickname?
I’m just kind of waiting for one of them to stick, but it doesn’t really matter to me. I’m happy with whatever the fans come up with. I’m just having fun with it all.