Since being named the head coach of the Georgia State University (GSU) Men’s Basketball team in 2011, Ron Hunter has changed the national perception of Georgia State. In his first four seasons, Coach Hunter helped the team win 87 games, including advancing to the third round of the 2015 NCAA tournament following a shocking upset of number 3-seed Baylor University – a game in which Hunter’s son, R.J., a key member of the team, hit the game winning shot as time expired.
While’s he’s known as the head coach of the Panthers, Coach Hunter is also well known for coaching a game each season barefoot, a tradition he started while head coach of Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis. He coaches barefoot to benefit Samaritan’s Feet, a foundation that donates shoes to children around the world who can’t afford them. We were able to speak with Coach Hunter to talk about his thoughts on coaching, his success at GSU and his involvement with Samaritan’s Feet.
How did you get into coaching?
While I was still playing collegiately, I realized that coaching was what I wanted to do for a living. From that point on, I tried to learn as much as I could from my coaches to make the transition to coaching as easy as possible when my playing days were over.
What’s a typical day look like for a Division I basketball coach?
Honestly, I don’t know if there is a typical day, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Every day is a little different depending on if we are in season or out of season. The great part of everyday being different is that there is always a new challenge which keeps the job fresh. I take great pleasure in that my job never gets boring.
Do you have any advice for someone who may be thinking about becoming a coach?
I think it is a great profession to be in. For someone young who wants to get into coaching, they must understand that it is a huge time commitment and it can take a long time to move up the coaching ladder. However, it is extremely rewarding getting to work with student-athletes and molding young minds.
What advice would you give our young adult readers on how to achieve future success in whatever career they choose?
In my mind the key to success is doing something you love. Over the course of your life, you are going to spend a lot of time at work. If you enjoy it, it will never feel like a job, but rather just a part of you. I love coaching and have been doing it for a long time and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Can you briefly describe the feeling you had watching your son, R.J., hit the game winning shot versus Baylor?
It was probably one of the most emotional experiences in my life. Obviously I was extremely proud of R.J. I was also proud of the way our team reacted when we trailed by 12 points with under three minutes remaining in the game. They never gave up and kept pushing. That attitude gave us a chance at the end and fortunately R.J. knocked down a shot that will not soon be forgotten.
After Georgia State stole the show during the first weekend of the 2015 NCAA tournament, you were the lead story on ESPN and other media outlets. What was the most memorable experience for you during that time?
There were a lot of great stories told during the tournament. However, my most memorable experience was right when we got back to the hotel after the win and I got to spend about 10 minutes with my wife, son and daughter. We laughed, cried and everything in between. After those 10 minutes, we got to do an ESPN piece as a family and that time together was extremely special.
What’s your favorite thing about Georgia State University?
Honestly, I have a lot of favorites, so it would be tough for me to select just one. However, I love being in the city of Atlanta and everything that makes up our campus. We have been fortunate to win a lot of games in the last couple of years and the support that we have received from our students, fans and alums throughout the city has been special.
R.J. was selected by the Boston Celtics in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft. What’s it like as a parent to see him get drafted?
Knowing that R.J. was getting a chance to fulfill his lifelong dream, it was extremely gratifying for me as a parent. Not too many fathers get to spend every day with their college-aged kids, so I made sure to enjoy the three years he was a part of our program. It culminated with an incredible night surrounded by family and friends. I could not be any more proud of him.
We know you’re involved with Samaritan’s Feet and have coached a game barefoot for the last several years to benefit them. Can you tell us how you got involved with that organization?
A group from Samaritan’s Feet, including founder Manny Ohonme approached me almost 10 years ago. They explained to me what they were trying to do and right from the start, it just felt right. They were trying to bring awareness to the 300 million children around the globe who wakeup without shoes each day and wanted a coach to help raise awareness. I was fortunate that they found me as it has been extremely rewarding.
What’s it like coaching a game without shoes on? It must have been a little odd at first?
At first, it was kind of painful, however, the more I thought about it the more I realized that the pain was nothing compared to what a child must go through never having a pair of shoes and dealing with that pain every day. To be in some pain for two hours is nothing compared to that. It was definitely a little strange, but I will keep doing it if it helps raise awareness for an incredible cause.
What does it mean to you to give back to those less fortunate?
I can win every game I coach for the rest of my life, win conference championships and even a national championship. However, it will never be as rewarding as seeing the smile on the face of a child who we have just given their first pair of shoes. I have been fortunate to travel to places like Peru, Costa Rica and South Africa, and each one of those trips has allowed me to see how fortunate we truly are in this country. I will continue to do this work well after I am done coaching because there are still a lot of children out there to help.
At Georgia’s Own, we work to promote financial responsibility. How has financial responsibility played into your personal success?
When you are young and getting into the coaching profession, you live paycheck to paycheck, so it is important to learn financial responsibility. I learned that lesson very quickly and have continued to live that way my entire life. I am fortunate to be able to provide for my family and I think that has led to success on and off the court.
As far back as she can remember Lacey Agnew of Jonesboro, Georgia, was involved in sports. Around the age of 12, and with some encouragement from her dad, she picked up a golf club and hasn’t looked back since. After making the varsity golf team as a freshman at Woodward Academy, she went on to lead her high school team to three state titles, signed a scholarship to play golf collegiately at Florida State and moved on to professional golf. During her preparations for the upcoming season, we had a chance to chat with Lacey about her career as a golfer.
i[x]: When and how did you first start playing golf?
LA: I grew up playing any and every sport, however I did not pick up a golf club until the age of 12. My dad thought I should give it a try and I’m sure glad I did! I did not start competing in golf until high school, and I made the varsity team as a freshman at Woodward.
i[x]: Did you play other sports growing up?
LA: Being the youngest of three, as well as the only girl in my family, I was always trying to keep up. I began playing basketball at 3 years old, and that was by far my favorite sport growing up as well as the one I was the best at. I also played baseball, softball, soccer, tennis, volleyball,and swam.
i[x]: Playing so many sports, how did golf become your main focus in high school?
LA: I played golf, basketball, volleyball and softball in high school. Basketball and golf were my favorite. When I was a junior I knew that I wanted to play either college basketball or golf. Because I didn’t see a future playing professional basketball, I decided to take playing college golf seriously.
i[x]: After leading your high school team to three state titles, you were awarded a scholarship to Florida State. What was your favorite memory as a collegiate golfer?
LA: My greatest memory was when I won my first collegiate tournament. The tournament was at Pinehurst in North Carolina. The course is filled with golf history and to win there was extremely special.
i[x]: How were you able to balance the demands of being a college student (earning a spot on the Academic All-ACC Honor Roll) while also trying to compete on the golf course?
LA: Playing sports in college is all about time management. With golf, you have to become extra-disciplined because, unlike most sports that are gone a night or two during the week, traveling for tournaments lasts a week at a time. It took force and determination while on the road to keep up with my studies.
i[x]: What advice do you have for students who might be in the same situation where they are trying to juggle extracurricular activities with staying on top of their studies?
LA: My advice is to stay organized with reading and school work due dates so you do not fall behind! Plan for a dedicated amount of time each day to work on schoolwork.
i[x]: Since your graduation from Florida State, how has your experience as a professional golfer been?
LA: My professional experience so far has been quite the learning experience filled with many challenges. I try to soak in every experience, whether it be high or low, and learn from it. I am very excited to see what the future holds.
i[x]: What has been your favorite moment so far as a professional?
LA: My favorite experience thus far as a pro was in my second LPGA event. After the first day I was leading the tournament. That evening I was interviewed by reporters and there was a lot of buzz around my round that day. It was a new experience to have the entire spotlight on me. I can’t say that I loved all the attention, but if that’s what comes along with leading a tournament, I can’t wait for more of it!
i[x]: What is a typical day like for you during golf season?
LA: There is no such thing as a typical day in the golf world, so I would probably have to describe a typical week for me. Monday is usually a travel day otherwise reserved for relaxation before the tournament starts up. Tuesday is a practice round day, and we take this opportunity to evaluate the course. Wednesday and Thursday are pro am (Pro-Am golf is where amateur and professional golfers play together)days as well as another opportunity to practice. Then the real fun begins on Friday which marks day one of the tournament, which of course goes through Sunday. On Monday, I hit the road (or airport) again! I also can’t forget about the goodbyes I have to say to my host family!
i[x]: What do you enjoy doing when you aren’t on the course?
LA: I never thought I would say this, but after I graduated college (and only AFTER the demands of college!), I actually enjoy reading. I also like spending most of my time outside being active, either playing other sports like tennis or walking my dog. I try to stay as active as I can when I’m not playing- it does the mind and body good!
i[x]: Here at i[x]ga, we like to promote making smart financial decisions. Is there any one financial habit that you practice personally that you would like to share with our readers?
LA: If I am saving for a special item, I set money aside as I save it, so I am not tempted to spend it. Also, if I am on a strict budget for the weekend or a tournament, I will withdraw the cash I need to pay for dinners, etc, so that I don’t put more than I intended to on my credit card.
i[x]: What did you do with your first paycheck as a professional?
LA: My dad took my first professional check and blew it up as if it were one of those billboard checks from Happy Gilmore. After we laughed about it for a bit, it went directly into my savings account.
i[x]: What does your 2014 golf schedule look like?
LA: I have a very busy 2014 schedule. I will be playing around 20 events – spanning from the West to the East Coast throughout 13 different states. Our first tournament is in Mesa, Arizona. Be sure to check out our schedule online at symetratour.com.
i[x]: What do you hope to accomplish as a professional?
LA: I hope to have a long career in women’s golf. I am a natural competitor at heart and I simply love playing. I also love building relationships and meeting with all kinds of inspiring people throughout the seasons. I also hope to further the cause for women’s golf, and show everybody what we are made of!