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What is Adam Kunkel?

Adam Kunkel the shooter never materialized for Xavier, but it’s possible an equally valuable piece did.

Syndication: The Enquirer Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Rather than a full on preview for each player on the roster this year we will be attempting to focus on one question that will determine how the player might fit on the team. The questions aren’t designed to carry either a positive or negative connotation, just really suss out how the roster is built. We’ll start with the freshman and build on to the players everyone knows. We know and you know the caveats that Covid brings, so this will be the only mention of it.

Part of the difficulty in running a website that started as an email chain between brothers excited about their favorite team is that, at the end of the day, we remain brothers excited about our favorite team. That fandom sometimes gets in the way of true journalistic impartiality. I say that because I love Adam Kunkel and that is going to shine through here. From the leg tattoos, to the goofy mustache, to the general recklessnes with which he plays, I cannot get enough of watching Adam Kunkel play. Deciding what to make of him, though, is much harder to do.

Adam Kunkel came to Xavier intending to sit a year out. Like any kid given a chance to play, though, he jumped when the NCAA said he could get on the court. After missing the first five games Kunkel debuted against UC in the Shootout and jarred two threes. Those threes were the reason that the guard from Hebron, Ky was on the team. In a staggering 206 attempts for Belmont the previous year, Kunkel shot 38%. If not a full on three point sniper, he was certainly a consistent and dangerous threat from deep.

Where Kunkel was billed to have issues was on defense, he was slight and a bit slow footed, and inside the arc, where he shot only 47% on another 218 attempts. (He shot a lot at Belmont.) Part of the reason that he was intending to sit a year was to add some size to his frame and be ready to play defense in the Big East. The packaging for Adam Kunkel said he was a great shooter who wasn’t ready to add much else. What Xavier got when they opened it up was something very different.

Adam Kunkel shot the ball badly last season. A hand injury played into that to be sure, but 26.5% on 68 attempts behind the arc is not good no matter the extenuating factors. A 4-19 stretch to close the season certainly didn’t help. Kunkel now has seasons of 28.6%, 38.3%, and 26.5% and a career mark of 34.6% behind the arc. Is he a good shooter? The evidence leans toward yes, but the jury remains out on that one.

Where Kunkel was a surprise was inside the arc. His disregard for his own safety saw him finish second on the team (among qualifiers) in field goal percentage at the rim. his 71.4% trailed only Zach Freemantle on the Musketeers. In conference play Kunkel was second in the entire Big East in field goal percentage inside the arc at a very clean 66.7%. That, obviously, is nothing like what he had shot before. Kunkel drove, pulled up, and drove again with an abandon that served him well in the increasing time when his jumper wasn’t going.

Defensively, Kunk was a mixed bag. He’s not the fleetest in a one on one situation, but his nose for the ball meant he led the team in steal rate and was second in the Big East (at 3.6%) during conference play. More than that, he seemed to be everywhere on defense. His presence called to mind JP Macura when he was at his disruptive best. The comparison doesn’t stop there, either, as Kunkel was unafraid to celebrate any bucket, talk to any opponent, or swagger pretty much anywhere.

So what is Adam Kunkel? He might be a three point specialist who struggles elsewhere. He might be a fearless slasher who adds value on the defensive end. He might be a spark plug who gets the team going by being on the floor before anyone else. In a perfect world, he combines all of those things to become a truly dangerous option for Coach Steele. Whatever may happen, he’ll always be worth watching from the second he steps on the floor.