By Derrick Mahone

North Clayton sophomore Devin Lewis didn't hesitate or have to ponder the question, he just rolled off an answer.

Lewis was asked what does junior guard/forward Marcus Hunt mean to the Eagles team this season.

"He has been the reason we are winning," Lewis said. "When we are down we look for him. He is pretty much the heart and soul of this team."

This was evident in the 47-point performance Hunt had in a stunning 79-78 come-from-behind win over No. 10 Jonesboro on Jan. 8. He had 24 points in the fourth quarter as the Eagles outscored Jonesboro 35-17 during the furious comeback. Just about every player on the Jonesboro team took their shot at guarding Hunt, who made nine 3-pointers.

Tonight the teams renew their rivalry at Jonesboro with a 7:30 p.m. tip-off.

Hunt's stepped into his new role on the team this season as more of a scorer. The Eagles graduated seven seniors last season from a team that reached the quarterfinals of the Class AAAA tournament.

Because of last season's team depth at guard, Hunt had to play mostly in the paint.

"He is a very unselfish player," North Clayton coach Martisse Troup said. "He did not hestitate when we asked him to sacrifice his game for the good of the team."

And it paid off as the team won the regular season Region 4-AAAA championship and finished third in the region tournament. North Clayton lost 51-50 to Richmond Academy in the quarterfinals at Fort Valley State University.

This season, he has moved back to his natural position of guard and small forward. It has certainly been good for both North Clayton and Hunt.

He is averaging 25.8 points and 12 rebounds, and causing several match-up problems.

"I knew I had to steup after we had so many players to graduate," Hunt said. "I'm in a different role this year because they are expecting me to score more points and rebound."

And leadership.

"I think that has come naturally," Hunt said. "I like giving advice and helping people."

At 6-foot-5, 210-pounds with skills of a guard, Hunt is usually too tall and big for most high school guards, but too quick for many taller players to guard.

"Marcus is going to get his regardless of the match up," Jonesboro coach Dan Maehlman said.

"He is one of those special kind of players," Jonesboro forward James White said. "His size is a problem for most players."

That is probably why Hunt is regarded as one of the top national recruits for 2012. He is considered a four-star prospect by with offers from several schools including Georgia State, Miami, Nebraska, Jacksonville and Wichita State. Rated the fifth-best prospect in Georgia, Hunt has scored over 30 points in three games this season.

In addition to his 47-point outbreak against Jonesboro, he had a 40-point performance against Westover to earn one of his two holiday tournament MVP awards.

"Marcus has been tremendous for us this season," North Clayton coach Martisse Troup said. "He has a good foundation and a high basketball IQ. He just loves the game and spends as much time in the gym as possible."

Hunt's father, Willie, was a standout basketball player at Albany State, where he orginally earned a football scholarship. The two have forged a close relationship that has helped the younger Hunt blossom into one of the top junior players in the state.

Troup says his parents should be given a lot of credit for "raising him the right way", which includes being a solid student in the classroom. He sports a 3.1 grade-point average and go with his array of basketball talent.

"My dad and I are real close, we are like brothers," said Hunt, who is the oldest of three siblings. "My dad knows the game real well. I trust the things that he tells me and it has been paying off."

A season-ending right-hand wrist midway through his freshman year seems to have been a blessing in disguise for Hunt, although it dealt a devastating blow to the North Clayton team.

With one of its top players sidelined, the Eagles missed the playoffs state tournament after losing in the first round of the region tournament.

While the injury kept the 6-foot-5 Hunt off the court, it allowed him to work on his left hand dribbling and shooting.

"I'm more comfortable with my left hand now," he says. "It was tough missing the rest of those games, but I've been come a better player now."

He would few arguments from the teams in the region.