Ron Hunter is a terrific addition to the Colonial Athletic Association coaching ranks. That could have been said before the season given his track record and the positive energy he showed talking about his Georgia State team on Media Day in October, but after the CAA Tournament it bears repeating because it was so obvious.
Hunter was already well-known for the winning he did at IUPUI, and perhaps even more for the organization he partners with and serves on the board of advisors for, Samaritan’s Feet. Hunter has coached a game barefoot every year for several years, has taken a team at IUPUI and will take a team from Georgia State overseas to see the difference receiving a pair of shoes can make in someone’s life, and he can run off the important numbers about it quite easily as it helps him keep a lot in perspective.
“One of the things I have to remember every time I do this is that 300 million children wake up without a pair of shoes,” said Hunter. “125,000 of those children will die because of diseases of the feet. When I give a child a pair of shoes, it’s not giving them a pair of shoes, it’s giving them hope. There’s no game I could ever coach – national championship, Final Four – that will ever, ever match the feeling when I go to Africa, when I go to China, or some of the South American countries when I see them with a pair of shoes.”
More than that, though, Hunter has further proven himself as a coach, and done so in fine fashion this year. He inherited a team that was full of upperclassmen and had struggled to win over their careers in Atlanta. They bought in to what he was doing, and the Panthers were a force in the CAA. He also got them to play with a purpose for a lack of respect, and kept it up as they advanced in the CAA Tournament this past weekend.
“We felt like, for the most part all year, no one gave us the respect we felt like we deserved,” Hunter said after their win on Friday. “That doesn’t come from me, it’s just that these kids have been around for a long time. I’ve never seen a bunch of kids as hungry – as hungry – as these guys are.”
Hunter is energetic and pours everything he has into what he does. He’s serious, yet fun-loving as well, able to very easily intersperse light comments in with coaching insights. He says he coaches with a chip on his shoulder, so there is an edge to him as a competitor, but he doesn’t carry that edge in dealing with people. You get the sense that he enjoys this just as much as he works hard at it, and isn’t afraid to let it be known.
What he’s put into this was evident after his team’s last game on Saturday night, when he was struggling to walk around because of a bad hip. He still coached through it, constantly moving and getting on his team, at times lighting into them in the tough love fashion he is able to. In the post-game press conference, he paused at times, clearly emotional about what this group of young men has meant to him, and he noted how he has put his health on the line to a degree with the hip.
Georgia State loses a lot of seniors from this season’s team, but what Hunter established is that the Panthers will be even more of a force to be reckoned with. Rod Barnes certainly made them competitive during his tenure, especially considering they never had a full allotment of scholarships until his last year at the helm. Hunter already has them taking the next steps as a program. And for that, as well as his work off the court, fun-loving nature that we get to see, and more, he has already proven to be a great addition to the CAA coaching ranks.