You could say that Jimmie "Snap" Hunter is a veteran. Not exactly an NBA veteran, but a veteran of training camps, summer leagues and preseasons. Over the past four years, Hunter has vied for a spot in the NBA and found nothing but disappointment.
This year marked Hunter's second consecutive NBA summer league appearance with the Indiana Pacers. Last week, the Pacers played five games in five days at RDV Sportsplex against the Magic, Miami, New Jersey, Charlotte and Chicago.
The summer league offered a chance for drafted NBA prospects to prepare for the upcoming season or, in the case of Hunter and other free agents, an opportunity to be picked up by an NBA team.
"I'm just going to keep trying as long as they let me," said Hunter, a guard. "It's a pride thing. Every day I wake up, I know there's potential for a great day."
At 28 years old, Hunter definitely has more experience than most of the other summer-league players. He knows just what to expect from them.
Over the next few years, however, Hunter's heightening age will become a disadvantage. Even now, most of the other players -- his competition -- are four to eight years younger than he is.
But in Hunter's eyes, age is just a number. The only numbers that matter to him are the ones written on paychecks.
"At the end of the day you're still trying to feed yourself and your family," he said. "That's what I'm in this game to do."
In 2004, Hunter played with Cleveland during the preseason, but he was eventually waived.
Hunter bounced back last year, distinguishing himself in summer-league play with Indiana and earned himself an invitation to training camp. Despite scoring 17 points in 18 minutes in the preseason opener against New Jersey, Hunter's 2005 NBA fate was sealed primarily due to contract circumstances. The Pacers had four returning point guards with guaranteed contracts -- Jamaal Tinsley, Anthony Johnson, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Eddie Gill -- and that left no room on the roster for Hunter.
This year, the Pacers' roster isn't quite wide open -- with Tinsley, Johnson, and Jasikevicius returning -- but Hunter might finally be in the right place at the right time.
"This year," he said, "only two or three guys have contracts, but at the same time there are five other teams and coaches out here right now, so anything can happen."
After last year's near miss with Indiana, Hunter signed with the Gary Steelheads of the Continental Baseball Association where he averaged a league-leading 27.6 points per game and 5.4 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game. He also set a Steelheads single-season record of 1,214 points.
Prior to playing with the Steelheads, Hunter bounced around the minor leagues, looking for the right team.
"For me, it's like, when you get to play in the CBA, it's a good league, it's a grind league, but you want to be able to put yourself in the best position for a team to look at you better," said Hunter.
On Thursday, Hunter seemed to help himself by scoring 20 points and adding five assists in the Pacers' 89-81 victory over the Heat.
One thing Hunter is not recognized for, at least positively, is his size. He is 6 feet 4, but he weighs only 180 pounds. According to Hunter, teams have told him they know he can score, but they want him to get a "little stronger."
However, what Hunter lacks in physical strength, he makes up for in mental tenacity. He has relentlessly pursued his dream of playing in the NBA and intends to chase it as long as possible.
"I believe every place I went to has taught me a lesson, prepared me mentally and physically for the long haul in the NBA, and I look forward to taking that chance," he said.
Jennifer Osburn is a senior at Oviedo High School. Her Institute mentor is reporter Josh Robbins.