Friends' Central coach Ryan Tozer stopped the ball-movement drills and walked toward the free-throw line at practice, sending most of the players across the baseline. De'Andre Hunter remained on the court with two teammates.

"Who wants to go in and fight?" Tozer called out, and he launched a high-arcing shot toward the backboard.

The trio joined the fray, moving in for the rebound. Hunter, a 6-foot-6, 195-pound wing, snatched the basketball to win the fight.

That was only fitting. Battling, after all, was what got him back here.

Hunter, a major Division I recruit whom Tozer calls one of the area's most versatile players, is poised for a strong junior year after missing his sophomore season because of a broken left tibia.

He suffered the fracture during fall-league play in October 2013. He stole the ball and was going in for a dunk when a defender ran past him, causing him to land awkwardly. The next day, Hunter underwent surgery, with two screws inserted into the leg. He was on crutches until a couple of days after Christmas.

Hunter attended most home Friends' Central games and some away games last season. "Watching people play and watching people get better was just hard," he said.

So was rehab. For that, he had an experienced hand helping him: Sean Colson, Martin Luther King coach and Hunter's coach on the AAU team Philly Pride.

The former point guard from Franklin Learning Center and then UNC-Charlotte who went on to spend some time in the NBA had rehabilitated two torn Achilles tendons in his own career, once as a high school freshman and the other about five years ago when he was playing professionally overseas. He also consulted with college coaches and trainers he knew to develop a program for Hunter.

Who wants to go in and fight?

"He was really down after he got hurt and he felt like - you know how kids are when they get injured - life is over," Colson said. "I had torn my Achilles before, and just wanted to show him that if he wanted to get back and get to a higher level, he just had to stay focused and train."

Colson guided Hunter through a lot of plyometric exercises. Hunter ran up and down stadium stairs. He ran on tracks. He ran in gyms. He ran in the pool. He jumped on one leg in the pool. He worked on starting and stopping and turning in the pool.

Hunter did about 30 different exercises in the water, Colson said, and he joked that Hunter was in the pool so much that he thought he was a dolphin. Colson, who is 39 and says Hunter is "like my little brother," did a lot of the workouts with him.

Hunter returned to the court in May, about a month after the AAU season started. Physically, he wasn't himself. Mentally, he wasn't himself, either.

"When I first came back, I was very scared to play," Hunter said. "I didn't really want to jump. I didn't really want to run that fast. But I had to get over it if I wanted to start playing again at a competitive level.

"[Colson] really helped me. . . . He said in order for me to be as good as I want to be, I've got to just get over the fact that it happened and move on."

The biggest mental move-on moment came in July in Philly Pride's next-to-last game of its final tournament. Hunter was on a fastbreak and drove to the hoop, unsure if he could elevate enough to dunk.

He did.

"Once I did that, I was like, I'm there," he said.

Hunter, who lives in Northeast Philadelphia, said last week before practice that he was 95 to 100 percent back. He didn't wear a brace on the leg during practice. He said he has a brace and would wear it at times this season. He has about a four-inch scar below his left knee.

Tozer thinks Hunter might be even better than he was as a freshman, when he averaged 11.5 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 1.9 blocks and was named first-team all-Friends Schools League.

Hunter says he has received offers from colleges including St. Joseph's, Temple, La Salle, North Carolina State, and Oklahoma State. Penn State, Maryland, Miami, and Vanderbilt also have expressed interest. He hopes to make a college decision before his senior season.

"For having missed an entire season, seven-month recovery, he's worked hard to get himself back to the point that he's jumping great, he looks explosive, he's playing without fear in terms of going down the lane and jumping in traffic," Tozer said.

"He looks stronger, and his conditioning is getting better and better each day."

The Phoenix had a down year last season, going 8-18. This year, Tozer is eager to see Hunter on the court with the revamped backcourt of senior point guard Jonathan Lawton, who averaged 23.5 points for Friends' Central last season, and junior Chuck Champion, a transfer from La Salle.

Hunter can play all five positions on the court, Tozer said, but will be used mostly on the wing. On defense, the third-year Phoenix coach added, Hunter will be asked to guard both backcourt and post players.

Who wants to go in and fight?

"I think he's got a chip on his shoulder. He's hungry, to kind of make up for missing last season," Tozer said. "And I anticipate him having a great year. I really do. I think he's going to be one of the more dominant players in the city."

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