High School Sports

Grace Hunter comes from big family, scores big points

Athens Drive’s Grace Hunter (front) sails to the basket past Middle Creek's Kylie McElroy. The Athens Drive Jaguars and the Middle Creek Mustangs girls basketball game took place in Apex on Friday, January 9, 2015. Athens Drive won 55-51.
Athens Drive’s Grace Hunter (front) sails to the basket past Middle Creek's Kylie McElroy. The Athens Drive Jaguars and the Middle Creek Mustangs girls basketball game took place in Apex on Friday, January 9, 2015. Athens Drive won 55-51. newsobserver.com

Athens Drive senior Grace Hunter applies lessons learned from growing up in a big family to the basketball court.

Whether it was a second helping of food or respect on the basketball court, she had to go up against her 12 siblings: Ebony, Xavier, Zacharry, Joshua, Francena, Faith, Caleb, Hope, Charity, Joy, Silas and Paul. Grace, the youngest girl, is older than only Silas and Paul.

The school’s all-time leading scorer plays with reckless abandon and is the engine leading the Jaguars to Friday’s regional semifinal game against Southeast Raleigh at 4 p.m. in Fayetteville’s Crown Coliseum. She’s averaging 38.7 points per game through three rounds with point totals of 29, 43 and 44.

“I guess it’s her year,” her mother Franceston said.

Grace’s style of play and approach was molded in the backyard of the Hunters’ Raleigh home.

Basketball with the Hunters

Basketball is the Hunter family’s pastime. Toughness was learned in pickup games.

Franceston and family patriarch Harry Hunter, who played basketball in high school but baseball in college, enjoyed playing with the kids. But that doesn’t mean they went easy on them.

“They kind of learned in the backyard with us beating them up when they were little,” Franceston said. “We’d just kind of beat them up when they were little, and all of sudden they started beating us. And then the older ones beat up on the next group and it just kept going on down.”

The Hunters, who run Stand in the Gate, a small ministry, homeschooled many of their kids. They didn’t realize just how good those backyard games were until eldest son Xavier earned a walk-on spot at Louisburg Junior College despite not having played organized basketball.

So some of the children, like Grace, began going to school for their high school years.

Xavier, 33; Zacharry, 31; Joshua, 29; Faith, 26; Hope, 23; Charity, 21; and Joy, 20, have all gone on to play at least one season of college basketball.

Grace, a Charlotte recruit, will be added to that list next year.

“Everyone in my family played more than one sport, but basketball took everyone the furthest,” Grace said.“It means a lot to me because it’s going to get me to college and things I need to do in life.”

Big family support

Grace gets her competitive edge from her father.

From her mother, Grace gets her perspective.

“I keep her deflated,” Franceston said. “‘Stay humble,’ I tell her.”

And she gets whoops and cheers from the formidable Hunter cheering section that attends her games.

“You can hear them louder than everybody. They’re so loud,” Grace said. “But it means a lot. I love the support. It lets me know that they’re there for me no matter what.”

On Tuesday night at Riverside, Grace’s brothers and sisters jumped out of their seats with every one of Grace’s many baskets during a 44-point performance. They cheered even louder when another Jag scored.

“I scream the whole game. I out-cheer the cheerleaders,” Franceston said. “We cheer for all the (Athens Drive) girls.”

Finishing strong

The hardest thing to fight for in the big family, Grace said, was respect on the basketball court.

She challenged her siblings over and over, telling them “You can’t beat me,” even if that wasn’t the case.

“She was such a character,” Franceston said. “They’d beat her one-on-one all the time. She was just determined she was going to beat everybody.”

Franceston saw potential. And by age 11, Grace couldn’t be passed over in pickup games anymore.

“She couldn’t beat her sisters, she couldn’t beat her brothers, but I could see it,” Franceston said.

“No one really respects the youngest girl in basketball, but I had to fight like crazy just to let them know, ‘I’m not going to go down easy when I play you guys.’ My goal was to be better than them,” Grace said. “When I step on the court, I just want to dominate the other team.”

Grace still looks to dominate opponents. That’s worked for most of this year.

Athens Drive (22-5) won the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference title this season and is making its first regional appearance since 2010.

More than being remembered for her points, Grace wants to be known for how she got them – by never quitting.

In some ways, she still performs like she’s in the backyard playing against her older siblings, refusing to go down or accept defeat.

“The biggest thing with Grace is she has this drive and determination like nobody else I’ve every coached,” Athens Drive coach Dayna Jordan said. “She just goes after everything all the time. She’ll tip a ball, she’ll rebound it six or seven times, with four girls hanging on her, and won’t stop until it goes in the rim.

“A lot of that has to do with being raised with 12 other siblings. Just scrapping for every last little bit to stand out above the rest of them.”

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The Hunter children

The girls: Ebony, 35; Francena, 28; Faith, 26; Hope, 23; Charity, 21; Joy, 20; Grace, 18

The boys: Xavier, 33; Zacharry, 31; Joshua, 29; Caleb, 24; Silas, 16; Paul, 14

There are also eight grandkids.