The partnership began in a most Philadelphia way, in a barbershop. Sean Colson was back from playing professional basketball overseas, telling his barber in a shop just off Broad Street on Stenton Avenue how he was working out some guys. The barber mentioned he had another client who came in talking about his talented younger brother.
“Our barber kind of put us together,’’ Colson said of his eight-year working relationship with De’Andre Hunter that began when Hunter was in the eighth grade and will hit a milestone next week when he hears his name called early in the NBA draft.
“That’s pretty much how it did go,’’ said Aaron Hunter, De’Andre’s older brother. “Just a little bit more trash talk in the middle.”
Trash talk in a barbershop? Hard to believe. Aaron’s version was that Colson was in there saying he was working with the best eighth-grader in the city.
“Is it De’Andre?’’ asked Toot Da Barber.
“No,’’ Colson told him. “My man is the best.”
Colson did not know of Hunter, who was from the Lawncrest section of the city. When Aaron went in there another day, Toot told him about the conversation. Aaron Hunter conceded that he hadn’t known of Colson, a former point guard who had played a season in the NBA and had been a Public League star in the 1990s at Franklin Learning Center.
A debate can produce connection. Colson said Aaron brought his younger brother over to the gym at Haverford College. “It just clicked,’’ Aaron Hunter said.
A great start to a relationship that helped put De’Andre on the cover of Sports Illustrated after the 6-foot-7 guard took over the NCAA championship game and led Virginia to the title.
Now the coach at Martin Luther King High, in addition to coaching Hunter and others for Philly Pride on the Under Armour travel-team circuit, Colson has developed into a premier workout specialist. His clients have included NBA players and local players such as Amile Jefferson and Khalif Wyatt.
According to the two men closest to him, De’Andre was never shy about putting in the work.
“Ever since he was young, he would wake me up or wake my mom up — 8, 9 years old,’’ Aaron said of his brother’s desire to get to a basketball court. Aaron remembered how at first De’Andre had a basic game — he would just drive every time. This was like in sixth grade. One game, he kept picking up offensive fouls. So that summer, they just worked on a midrange game, stop-and-pop jumpers, all that. “Seventh grade, it was almost all he would do,’’ Aaron said.
The next year, eighth grade, they began to put it together.
“It got to a point, I taught him everything I could,’’ said Aaron Hunter, who always had played but not in high school or college. The Colson barbershop talk came at a perfect time.
When De’Andre suffered a broken leg and had to sit out his sophomore year at Friends’ Central, Colson told him about how he had torn his Achilles his first day of practice at Rhode Island, telling De’Andre, “Look, man, you’re going to be back. You’re going to be better than ever.”
The next summer, Colson remembers a game when Hunter played against future NBA lottery picks Josh Jackson and Miles Bridges in Las Vegas and had about 30 points, and dunked on Bridges. That kind of game built in more confidence.
Redshirting as a freshman at Virginia was tough.
“I think it all sparked a fire under him,’’ his brother said. “We’ve been through a whole lot. Just another obstacle. Our father passed away. I had to be the brother but also say different things to him, told him we’re going to make it through.”
Aaron remembers telling his brother that he’d still come down to as many games as he could even though De’Andre wasn’t playing, that he’d get there to watch the pregame workouts.
“Be the Michael Jordan of the pregame workouts,’’ he told his brother.
Hunter added weight and strength. In the summer, the Colson workouts continued. Sometimes with guest instructors.
“Rasheed Wallace would come in,’’ Colson said, mentioning a lifelong friend who remains a gold standard for Philadelphia basketball players. Whatever your thoughts of what a workout with Wallace might look like, Colson said the reality is a bit different: “Sheed is just a really smart player. He really focuses on fundamentals.”
"He believed in me,'' De’Andre Hunter said of the benefit of working with Colson over the years, adding that Colson understood what it took to be a professional.
If you ask scouts about Hunter, you hear words such as diligent, effort, energy, hard work. Not a bad base. There is debate about what his upside is, whether he can achieve All-Star status. Nobody questions his floor, how any NBA team would want him.
“People are going to be surprised. They’re going to say, ‘Man, his ballhandling is so much better,’ ‘’ Colson said. “He kind of already had a lot of it.”
His role at Virginia required picking up defensive concepts, which you would say Hunter did, to the tune of becoming the national defensive player of the year, named by the coaches’ association.
A broken left wrist suffered in the 2018 ACC championship game meant Hunter wasn’t out there when Virginia became the first top seed to lose to a 16 seed, UMBC.
“There was like a fire in him,’’ Aaron Hunter said of that loss. “Within two days, he was in the gym with a cast on.”
Aaron remembers a conversation last summer.
“I want to go top five,’’ De’Andre told him, referring to his potential NBA draft selection.
“I kind of laughed,’’ Aaron Hunter said. “He didn’t laugh.”
De’Andre has a sense of humor. Last week, Virginia teammate Ty Jerome, also headed for the NBA, pointed out a tweet showing how Jerome, Hunter and Kyle Guy went 66-6 the last two seasons. “Nah, I went 66-5,’’ Hunter tweeted back, an obvious and true reference to the UMBC game.
If that’s good-natured trash talk, it hearkens back to the kind his brother had in the barbershop on Stenton Avenue. (As it happens, Toot himself has gone big-time, Colson said, with NBA and Eagles players for clients. Now, you book him through an app, not by walking into a shop.)
As for De’Andre, he had no idea about the barbershop debate his older brother once had that started the relationship with Colson.