Building a Better Basketball Offense, Part 7: All of Our Friends

Cameron Hunt at Southwestern was the other elite small-school player you’ve never heard of

As strange as it might be to hear, there are other high-end basketball players past the Division I level. Plenty of great basketball players start and end their careers in Divisions II, III, the NAIA, or even the NJCAA. The extreme level of focus paid to D-1 means that, at best, we get to hear about maybe one small school or one non-D-1 star each basketball season.

Unfortunately for Cameron Hunt, Aston Francis stole a lot of his potential headlines this year. Southwestern College (KS) had a star the size of which they hadn’t really seen before or since; appropriately, he was the 2018-19 NAIA Player of the Year. That typically happens when you’re a four-year starter that scores 31.5 points per game in your senior year:

Cameron Hunt had an unbelievable work ethic,” says his now former assistant coach, Tim Miser. Miser and head coach Matt O’Brien have worked together at Southwestern since 2010, and it’s been a fruitful relationship. Quietly, Southwestern has developed into one of the most powerful small-school basketball programs in the Great Plains. Prior to O’Brien’s arrival for the 2009-10 season, Southwestern had eight 20+ win seasons in its program history; only three of them had come since 1955. (All three were during Doug Hall’s run in the mid-2000s.) O’Brien took over a program without a ton of natural success. What he’s got now is one of the most fun, explosive offenses in the nation:

Southwestern scored 89.1 points per game this season, good for 10th-best out of 134 NAIA D-II teams. That may not sound as impressive until I tell you that 17 NAIA D-II programs outscored the leading NCAA D-I team this season. As a matter of fact, Southwestern is one of four NAIA D-II offenses that made my 20 most efficient men’s college basketball offenses list. To hear Miser tell it, it’s because everything is very simple: “we teach guys how to play rather than teach them plays.” Obviously, when you have a player like Hunt on your team, it provides immense help:

Across his four seasons at Southwestern, Hunt scored 2,865 points, a number made even crazier when considering he only put up 235 points his freshman year. Over his final three seasons, he averaged 26.3 points per game. “He set some goals and worked relentlessly until he achieved those goals,” says Miser. Look at Hunt’s freshman year compared to his senior year:

  • 2015-16: 6.9 PPG, 2.4 RPG, 37.9% FG%, 32.8% 3PT, 63.2% FT
  • 2018-19: 31.5 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 6.8 APG, 50.7% FG%, 41.8% 3PT, 88.6% FT

In nearly every way, Cameron Hunt went from a “maybe” to a Total Complete Player. He could score anyway he wanted, whether it was a three coming off of a ball screen:

Or a late bucket off of an isolation play that helped get his team to overtime against the #1 team in NAIA:

Hunt was immaculate. “It’s easy to trust a player when you see all the work they put in, so we trusted him with the ball to make the right plays,” notes Miser. He was also incredibly efficient: on plays that ended with the ball either in Hunt’s hands or in someone else’s directly after a pass, Southwestern put up 1.353 points per possession, per Synergy. That’s an insane rate for any offense to be hitting, especially when the player in question is using around 29 possessions per game. “Having an elite player, it is calming knowing where you are going with the ball at the end of the game or in clutch situations,” says Miser.

However, there were other quality players on this roster that weren’t named Cameron Hunt. Brent Smith was my favorite of these:

Few players hit the Low Volume/Extremely High Efficiency meter better than Smith. Synergy credits him with just 175 possessions all season; on these possessions, he got to 1.389 PPP, which ranked #2 in the nation among the 8,820 players with 150+ possessions to their name. That’s, uh, pretty good. “Brent was so efficient because he had incredible self-awareness and was humble,” says miser. “He rarely, if ever, did something he hadn’t practiced a thousand times.” If you want to be a program, you desperately need a few Brent Smiths in your life.

Also, there were other great members of the supporting cast. Here’s Simpson Anderson:

Troy Baker:

And again, from earlier, Andrew Hamm:

Together, this group made up a team that tied the school record for wins in a season. For the second year in a row, Southwestern made the NAIA Sweet Sixteen. They’ve also won the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference two straight seasons. “When we are recruiting, we want high character guys that listen, compete, and a willingness to get better,” Miser told me. I think they’re doing a mighty fine job of that.

One last thing before we depart Southwestern: rebounding. The Moundbuilders – yes, I promise this is their name – had a gigantic +10.4 rebound margin per game and secured 76.5% of potential defensive rebounds. While this is an offensive series, I can’t miss out on how good of a rebounding group they were. Per Miser: “Coach O’Brien is very passionate about rebounding and our players really feed off of it. The secret sauce is accountability.”

Here’s the secret to turning a fairly dormant basketball program into a Great Plains power: you have to shoot it from the perimeter and shoot it well (39.4% 3PT% on 29 attempts per game). You need a player that’s completely unafraid of both contact and tough shots (Cameron Hunt, 8.8 free throw attempts per game). You can run whatever offense you’d like, but every player needs to either be able to shoot it (four of five starters made 30+ threes) or score efficiently at the rim (Smith shot 80% on twos). Got all that?’

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