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Hunter and the Hoosiers celebrating Stewart’s progress this spring

IU assistant Kenya Hunter excited by development of Parker Stewart so far this offseason

NCAA Basketball: Delaware State at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Indiana assistant coach Kenya Hunter left Bloomington for a few days earlier this week. Upon his return, Thad Matta, the program’s new associate athletic director had some news for him.

“Coach Matta came up to me and said, ‘Your guy Parker (Stewart) hit 20 for 21 from 3,’” Hunter said. “And we celebrated that.”

Indeed, for a program that has shot below the national average from 3-point range in each of the past four seasons, it was news worth lauding. It was also, on a more individual level, a good day for Stewart — and after the past five months in his life, those good days are worth celebrating, too.

However they come.

Stewart is still searching for peace and comfort after the sudden death of his father, Anthony, in November. Anthony Stewart was entering his fifth season as the head coach at UT-Martin when he died on Nov. 15, only two weeks before the season opener. He was also the reason why his son, Parker, transferred from Pitt to the small Ohio Valley Conference school two years prior.

A month after Anthony Stewart’s death, Parker transferred to Indiana to be coached by Hunter, a man his father admired. In the four months that Parker Stewart has been a member of IU’s program, he’s grieved his father, tried to navigate a new campus and dealt with a head coaching change that saw former Indiana bench boss Archie Miller ousted for the newly-hired Mike Woodson. With Hunter’s status with the program uncertain during the two-week coaching search, Stewart considered leaving.

But when Hunter was retained on Woodson’s new staff, Stewart decided to stick around, too. Now, as they prepare to help Woodson get his coaching tenure off to a good start this fall, Hunter and Stewart are looking forward to finally seeing their partnership play out on the court this season.

“We’re excited about him,” Hunter said. “From the spring so far, he’s been able to do what we know we need. That’s knock down shots.”

Stewart’s history both in the Atlantic Coast Conference and in the OVC represents hope for a Hoosier program desperate for long-range firepower. As a freshman at Pitt during the 2017-18 season, he ranked second in the ACC with a .425 shooting percentage from beyond the arc. Two years later, following a mandatory redshirt year, Stewart led the OVC with 2.8 3-pointers per game and ranked third in the league in scoring (19.2 points per game).

Next season, Stewart projects to be a good candidate for regular minutes inside Woodson’s 4-out, 1-in offense. Not only can Stewart spot up and shoot, Hunter says he runs the floor with purpose. That’s good, because one of the things Woodson plans to emphasize is an attack mindset in transition. On the other end, the 6-foot-5 junior has the potential to defend positions one through three.

But a lot of other things have gone into getting Stewart ready to play again. Very little of it is related to basketball.

“I know from talking to his mom that she’s very excited about him being here and how she feels like he’s adjusted pretty well,” Hunter said. “It’s going to be a daily thing. Anytime you lose a parent — I’ve had to go through it this past season. I understand it. … The people that are here with you supporting you, that means the most and that’s what we’ve done. All of us have been very supportive of him.”

Whether it’s a good day for Stewart at practice, or a good day in his own head, those are the things Hunter and the Hoosiers are celebrating with their sharpshooter this spring.

“He’s gonna have his good days and his bad days,” Hunter said. “The reason why he came here is that when he does have those bad days, people are in his corner and support and understand his situation.”