In the shoes of coach Ron Hunter

Ron Hunter, head coach of the Georgia State men’s basketball team, is a beloved character in the long history of the Panthers. Photo by Unique Rodriguez | The Signal

Some may know coach Ron Hunter only as the man frantically screaming up and down the sidelines of Georgia State men’s basketball games. Georgia State students may have seen him dancing or dressing up at GSU Jam or noticed him coaching shoeless during the annual Samaritan’s Feet game, a game that he looks forward to every year for the thousands of shoes that get donated following the game.

“Most people just see him on the sidelines of basketball games where he can look a little crazy,” athletic director Mike Holmes said, “but it really is just his passion for his players and this University coming out. Off the court he really is just another guy that loves sports, his family and his faith.”

College basketball fans may also remember his 15 minutes of fame during the March Madness tournament in 2015.

The stool
Back in 2015, Georgia State garnered national attention as the Cinderella team that knocked off No. 3-seeded Baylor in the first round of the tournament. His son, R.J. Hunter, had hit the game-winning 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded to give the Panthers the 57-56 victory.

Having just seen his son hit one of the biggest shots of his life, coach Hunter flung his arms up in excitement after the buzzer beater, flinging himself right off of his stool and cracking the cast on his left leg.

Hunter had torn his achilles while celebrating the Panthers’ conference championship win prior to the tournament, hence why he was confined to a cast and rolling stool in the first place.

The reaction went viral and news of the heartwarming, proud-father moment spread quickly. Overnight, both Hunters became headline news. The duo was even invited on TNT and interviewed by Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith for a segment on March Madness Live.

Georgia State even made a bobblehead of coach Hunter, which has since been featured in the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum.

The Panthers lost in the next round, and just like that, the national attention switched back to the powerhouse conferences that dominate most of the tournament. Ron Hunter then returned to Georgia State and continued building his program.

First and foremost, Ron Hunter is an honored and respected head coach. His exceptional leadership has landed him in the Miami University Cradle of Coaches, a distinction awarded to alumni who have coached at Miami or go on to coach after graduating.

Coach Hunter was also inducted into the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Hall of Fame in February. At IUPUI he coached the Jaguars for 17 seasons. His stint in Indianapolis was highlighted by three 21-win seasons with NBA star George Hill from 2004-08.

Hunter is grateful for the honors, but he credits his players and coaching staff for being the reason behind his success.

“I have been fortunate to have great assistant coaches along the way who have helped recruit talented young men who buy into our system of play and want to succeed,” Hunter said. “All of these honors are great and very much appreciated, but they really belong to my assistants and student-athletes who have helped me along the way.”

Hunter took over at Georgia State men’s basketball after Rod Barnes, and is currently the third-highest paid faculty member at Georgia State. Hunter secured 22 wins in his first season with the Panthers and added four more 20+ win seasons over the next six years.

His ability to recruit top talent and develop them has led to Georgia State becoming the top basketball program in the state for the 2018-19 season and a promising future for the reigning Sun Belt champions.

Hunter decided as a player at Miami University that coaching was the way he wanted to continue his career in basketball.

“I honestly decided to pursue coaching while I was still in college,” he said. “I loved the game of basketball from the time I started to play. I figured what better way to continue to help the game than to coach. It just felt right from day one and I am so glad to be doing it all of these years later.”

Hunter said that two of his college coaches, Darrell Hedric and Jerry Peirson, had a big influence on his life.

“I was always able to ask a lot of questions and learn from them which is important in getting started in the profession,” Hunter said. “Since then, there have been too many people to name who have been influences in helping me sustain this career as long as I have.”

Another defining characteristic of Ron Hunter is his passion for giving. His value goes far beyond his win-loss record. He raises thousands of shoes each year with Samaritan’s feet and pushes his players to be better men, teaching them lessons that they can use in life long after basketball.

“For as much as Coach Hunter enjoys coaching, he enjoys giving back even more,” Holmes said. “The work he has done with Samaritan’s Feet over the years is remarkable. Coach Hunter points an incredible amount of energy into these trips because bringing shoes and hope to children is a true passion of his. It has been an eye-opening experience being a part of this the last eight years. To go along with that, Coach Hunter does a lot of stuff for others in the community that doesn’t go as recognized which is the way he likes it. He doesn’t do it for media attention or fame, but rather to give back to those less fortunate that we are.”

The Panthers were on a roll early in the season, starting conference play on a 5-game win streak. They then started to skid, losing four out of the next six. The team is currently 18-8 and ranked second in the conference with just five games left before the tournament. Hunter is focused on the conference championship and adding a third trip to the NCAA Tournament to his resume.

“Throughout the basketball season you are going to have wins and losses,” Hunter said. “The goal is to never get to high after a win or too low after a loss. We have had a couple of tough losses lately, but winning on the road is extremely tough and our guys know that. We have a championship team that will not let a couple of bumps in the road affect them too greatly.”