Ron Hunter Changing the Culture at Georgia StatePosted by KDoyle on February 23rd, 2012
Kevin Doyle is an RTC correspondent. Follow him on Twitter @KLDoyle11. He filed this report on Ron Hunter from the Georgia State-Old Dominion game in Atlanta Wednesday night.
A year ago on Senior Night — a Friday night game against future NCAA Tournament team George Mason — Georgia State said goodbye to three seniors before a small crowd of 1,127. Many of the students that night could be found in the Student Recreation Center playing pickup basketball, making a last minute run to the store to get some liquid supplies for the weekend, or even in the library catching up on schoolwork. Attending the men’s basketball game? That was far down on the list of things to do on a Friday night.
Fast forward one year, and Georgia State basketball games are suddenly a priority—it is “the thing to do” at night. First year coach Ron Hunter has invigorated not only the basketball program, but the students, alumni, and locals in the area who previously only knew Georgia State basketball existed based upon scores that stream across the bottom line on the ESPN ticker.
Unfortunately, for these fans who have come out of the woodwork to support the Panthers—arguably the best team in the state of Georgia this year — Old Dominion spoiled their final home game of the season by winning 65-60 in overtime, and securing a bye in the first round of the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament. A Georgia State victory would have meant a 20 win season for the first time since the 2003-04 season — something Hunter hoped he could give his current batch of seniors and fans in attendance, all of whom have seen seldom success since the turn of the century. In the postgame press conference, Hunter resembled a dejected and weakened boxer who threw every punch he had during a fight that went the distance:
I thought our team fought hard all night. We really wanted to win our 20th game at home in front of another great crowd. They gave us a lot of energy and I really appreciate all of the hard work our administration has put in to making this a great home court environment this year…I’m disappointed, we could have won it, but we proved a lot of people wrong and still have some things to prove.
When asked if he believed if winning 20 games at the beginning of the season was a realistic goal, the jovial Hunter chuckled with a smirk on his face that would suggest his next words may not be what he was truly thinking back in October:
To be honest, if I don’t believe we can do that than how are they (pointing to the locker room) supposed to believe? Everybody around here thought I was crazy saying we’d win 20—my mother thought I was crazy…I’ll call mom tonight and say ‘I think we did okay.’
If we are to believe in winning trends, it should come as no surprise that Hunter has found success in his first year leading the Panthers.
Prior to taking the job at Georgia State, Hunter coached at IUPUI for 17 seasons (1994-2011). The Jaguars do not exactly have a whole lot of basketball history as the program began in 1972, competed in the NAIA up until 1998, and were not a member of a Division I conference until 2001. None of this mattered much to Hunter who impressed and garnered the respect of many in the basketball world during his tenure at IUPUI:
- 22-7 in his first season with the Jaguars; two years prior they were a paltry 9-18.
- 15-15 in IUPUI’s first season competing in Division I.
- Most impressively, in just their second season in the Summit Conference, Hunter led IUPUI to a 20-14 record and the first bid to the NCAA Tournament in the young program’s history
Georgia State’s average win total in the six years leading up to Hunter’s arrival on campus: 10.5
Their current win total this season with a minimum two games left to play: 19
Everyone said ‘you can’t win at Georgia State.’ I have had college recruiters and coaches tell me it was crazy and stupid to take this job.
Watch any game that Ron Hunter has ever coached in his career, and his fervent energy is clearly contagious — some may say he is overzealous, but Hunter simply knows no other way. There is a reason Georgia State is one of the top defensive teams in the nation, and it is more than Hunter simply jumping up and down and clapping like an excited schoolgirl seeing Justin Bieber in person. The Panthers do an exceptional job of pressuring the basketball, taking away passing lanes, and creating deflections—all things that were seriously lacking prior to his arrival.
This defensive tenacity certainly showed in last night’s contest. Despite being outrebounded 50-35, and killed on the offensive boards 23-8, Georgia State held Old Dominion to 30% shooting (23-76). Coming off of the floor at halftime, it looked as if Hunter should be wearing a jersey rather than a fashionable beige suit. Sweat dripping from his forehead and a towel draped over his shoulder — a la John Thompson during his days at Georgetown — and donning a fresh pair of white Nikes, Hunter is a fan favorite with the crowd and a true player’s coach. When asked what it is like to come to Georgia State and provide the seniors with such a special and successful year, Hunter promptly responded:
I think the seniors have given that to me. When I say I have enjoyed this, I really mean that in every sense. We could win a National Championship next year, but it won’t be as special as this year because all of this was not supposed to be done.
The Signal — the official Georgia State student newspaper — released an article on the day of the game listing, “10 reasons why every student should go to the Old Dominion game.” At the very top of the page in bold lettering is a quote from Ron Hunter that reads: “It’s your team and your team is winning. So why not?”
The days of teams coming into Atlanta and just beating Georgia State are over. Most teams come down here, have a good time, enjoy the weather, and sneak out of here with a win—those days are over.
With the students, alumni, and local fans in Atlanta clearly hooked on Georgia State hoops, something tells me that Hunter will not have a problem enticing their support any longer. The excitement, energy, and quality of play on the floor all speaks for itself. At long last, as the season nears the end, Ron Hunter can feel confident in calling his mother to tell her that: “I did okay.”