Georgia State University Coach Ron Hunter
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.