On Sunday Georgia State clinched an NCAA tourney bid with a 2-point win over Georgia Southern in the Sun Belt tourney title game. The Panthers split the regular season series with the Eagles before winning the third installment of the trilogy to claim the school’s first NCAA tourney berth since 2001. Ron Hunter is in his fourth year as coach at Georgia State, but he spent the previous 13 becoming the best coach in IUPUI history. CHD’s Jon Teitel got to speak with Coach Hunter about having Ron Harper as a teammate and having a son who is the best player in the conference.
You played basketball at Miami (OH) in the mid-1980s with high school/ college teammate Ron Harper: how close did you two become, and did you always know that he was going to end up in the NBA? I knew he was a good player but never thought he could make the NBA. We have known each other since age 13 and decided to go to college together. He was a center in high school but ended up becoming a point guard on five NBA championship teams. I tell my recruits all the time how hard he worked on his game even after practice when the rest of us were tired.
What are your memories of the 1984 NCAA tourney (Jon Koncak scored 32 points in a win by SMU)? That was my first tourney and I was just overwhelmed by the whole deal after watching it on TV in the past. SMU was a good team and we did not play well, but we learned a lot.
What are your memories of the 1985 NCAA tourney (Len Bias scored 25 points in a 1-point overtime win by Maryland in Dayton)? Lefty Driesell was the Terps’ coach, and he used to coach here at Georgia State. We turned the ball over at the end and Adrian Branch scored a basket, which was a tough pill to swallow. Bias was a terrific player. It was one of the hardest game I have ever played in.
What are your memories of the 1986 NCAA tourney at Minneapolis (you scored 12 points [6-6 FG] but Jeff Hornacek made a 26-foot jumper at the buzzer in a 2-point overtime win by Iowa State)? That is my history of the NCAA tourney: losing on last-second shots in another game that we thought we should have won! It was the first game in a dome and I remember there being so many people at my last college game.
After becoming coach at IUPUI in 1994, your program made the jump to D-1 in the late 1990s: what have you seen as the biggest difference between D-2 and D-1? Support and resources, period: especially when it comes to scholarships.
What are your memories of the 2003 MCC title game (26-year-old Navy veteran Matt Crenshaw only scored six points, but made an 18-foot jumper with 1 second left in a 2-PT win over Valparaiso)? Matt was on my staff at IUPUI. That was an accumulation of all the hard work of building a program from scratch with no scholarships. It was draining physically and mentally on me so it was great to get it done.
What are your memories of the 2003 NCAA tourney, the 1st in school history (Gerald Fitch scored 25 points [10-13 FG] in a win by #1-seed Kentucky)? It was similar to my first tourney as a player: I felt completely overwhelmed so it was like a dream. We had not been expected to get there so I was not prepared as a coach to deal with the media and everything else.
In 2008 you raised over 200,000 pairs of shoes for Samaritan’s Feet, a foundation that donates shoes to people who cannot afford them: how did you get involved with Samaritan’s Feet, and what kind of a difference have you been able to make? It has the best thing to ever happen to me in any part of my career. I got a phone call from the people at Samaritan’s Feet who wanted to bring awareness about children who did not have shoes, and the rest is history.
You took over as head coach at Georgia State in 2011: why did you decide to leave IUPUI? I needed a challenge but wanted to go to a place that would work and would be a good fit. This is the perfect situation for me.
Your son RJ is the 2-time conference POY: how far do you think he can go as a player? It has been great to have RJ playing for me: if he decided to play anywhere else I would have taken his shoes, clothes and car! I am kidding, but he made the right decision and decided to go wherever was the best fit for him.