Adam Kunkel wasn’t expecting to play this season. When he got an unexpected chance, he attacked it.
Xavier’s recent history is filled with transfers that made an immediate impact. Malcolm Bernard and his sprint to glory against Arizona comes immediately to mind, but Remy Abell, Ryan Welage, and, of course, Jordan Crawford are all guards that Xavier has added who had an instant impact. Adam Kunkel wasn’t supposed to be one of those guys last season, but he was forced into a role he actively didn’t seek and did his best to make it his own.
Adam Kunkel did not want to play this basketball season. He transferred to Xavier for the same reason most players do: to play in the Big East and have a shot at the NCAA tournament every year. At 6-3, 165, though, Kunkel was very vocal about his body needing a year to get up to Big East level. Being a willowy shooter at Belmont is one thing, doing it in the Big East is an entirely different animal.
Like nearly everything else this Covid wracked season, that didn’t go to plan. On the 5th of December, Kunkel was declared eligible for the season. In that he’s a basketball player, he decided to play. Adam made the immediate impact that Xavier transfers usually do, sticking two three pointers in his first game, the Crosstown Shootout. Two games later he went for an Allan Houstonian 22/2/0 in a win over Marquette in which he literally called game with his final shot.
Even more evident that his basketball skill was the joie de vivre with which Kunkel seemed to attack every moment on the court. There was scarcely a shot a teammate that he didn’t celebrate, hardly a lose ball that he wasn’t the first to hit the floor after. Kunkel excelled at freelance improvisational play as well. It was his movement that created his own dramatic game winner and his reading of the game that set up Colby Jones for a game winner. The vigor that he showed, unfortunately, proved his undoing.
At some point during the season, Kunkel suffered an undescribed injury to his shooting hand. This, it should be noted, in no way kept him from shooting. When he was on the court he lifted nearly a quarter of Xavier’s shots. His success rate, though, dropped dramatically as the season went on. Kunkel posted a career low 26.5% three point shooting percentage. Recognizing this, Kunkel added a lot of driving and dishing to his game. In conference play Adam had a 17.8% assist rate. For the season he shot 62.5% inside the arc.
Adam Kunkel knew he wasn’t ready to play this season, but he took it on anyway. Unafraid of any moment he buried a game winner, set up another one, adapted his game after injury, and brought energy every time he stepped on to the floor. This season didn’t go at all how he had planned, but in it he sowed the seeds for success next year.
This is an odd grade for a guy who had an offensive efficiency rate of 98.8, but hear me out. Adam Kunkel got himself into all the right places, all season long. He took a ton of three pointers (more per game than any Xavier player not name Nate Johnson), but the vast majority of those came in flow. They didn’t go down at the rate you’d expect from him, but a nagging upper body and hand injury played into that. More impressive was the versatility he showed. Kunkel shot the highest percentage inside the arc of anyone on the team. He was careful with the ball. He set up teammates well. Short of the shots actually going in from the outside (which is admittedly vital), Kunkel had a very good offensive year.
Adam had the highest steal rate on the team, but that doesn’t really even tell the story. Kunkel is relentless on defense. He looks as if his goal in defensive life is to effort the other team into a turnover. He doesn’t stop moving, has active hands, and is always the first person on the floor. If he were a better rebounder he would get an A in this category. Short of actually grabbing the board to seal a stop, Kunkel brings about everything you want out of a guard on defense.
For a guy who didn’t expect to play and then suffered an injury, Kunkel had a good year. More importantly, he showed all the tools that would be needed to have a great year in the future. Xavier is deep at guard, but their gunner from Hebron, Ky has every reason to think he’ll stay near the top of the pecking order.