I first saw Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter when he was injured in a post-game celebration after leading his team to an NCAA tournament berth by winning the Sun Belt Conference Tournament. I’m pretty sure his injury was the result of an embrace with his son, who happens to be a high-scoring guard on this team. In post game interviews, he seemed like a breath of fresh air. Little did we know how much better this story was going to get in the coming days.
When the big dance tipped off on Thursday afternoon, instead of loosely following my bracket picks from work, I was home in bed with a migraine by the time the first game reached halftime. I was rudely awakened later in the afternoon by the loud yelling from another part of my house by my high school freshman son. I was disoriented but I knew what must be happening…….the first huge upset of March Madness. Obviously, it’s frowned upon to make loud unnecessary outbursts when dad has a migraine. But when I finally arose from my slumber, and my son excitedly told me about 14-seed Georgia State’s improbable upset of 3-seed Baylor on R.J. Hunter’s bomb in the final seconds (and Ron’s topple off the stool) I decided to withhold my wrath.
I fell in love with Ron Hunter’s coaching style, his fashion style (or lack of over-concern for it), his child-like excitement, and his humility. But what has drawn me to him most is his bond with his son. It’s easy to fall in love with the underdog stories each year, as most of us do. And each year it seems that a new coach wins over the country with a colorful personality. Perhaps the most lovable thing about Ron Hunter is his absence of “swagger”.
If you’re an 18 year-old prospect, maybe swagger is high on your list of coaching qualities. But if you’re just a dad, and a basketball fan and a fan of integrity, your ears perk up when a Ron Hunter shows up in the spotlight.
The phrase that keeps coming up in interviews is
“I love this kid”.
Over and over. He loves his son. He loves all his players. His love is not based on their ability to pull out last second wins. The last second wins only provide him a national stage to proclaim his love and pride for his players. He pours his energy into taking them to a place they never dreamed possible…..with the passion of a coach and the heart of a father.
There’s something special about March Madness. And there’s something special about a father coaching their son (or daughter). When you combine the two, it creates special moments to go beyond basketball.
I’ve coached all four of my kids on some level of sports.
One lesson that you hope every player walks away from their sports experience with is this:
At the end of each game, take pride in your effort. Win or lose, walk off the court or field with your head held high knowing you did all you could do to help your team win.
I sat watching Georgia State vs Xavier on Saturday night, trying not to let myself get too excited about the possibility of a Ga St. win. But I couldn’t help myself. This was my team. I was emotionally attached to this father/son combination and underdog story. I found myself yelling at the TV and reacting with dejection each time Xavier made a big shot down the stretch.
My oldest daughter, a freshman college soccer player was home for spring break, and happened to be the only one in the room with me as the game wound down. Ron Hunter took his son R.J. out of the game in the final seconds of their disappointing defeat.
R.J. raced off the floor with his head held high, knowing he’d given his all. He also knew he’d made his father proud. Father and son embraced. All I could say was “Aww”, but I guess my voice cracked.
My daughter Macy said, “daddy, are you crying?”……..”shut up Macy”
I wasn’t the only one. In the postgame press conference what caught my attention most was the shift in Ron Hunter’s voice as he was talking about the game and his team’s unlikely postseason run. He completely broke down……..when his words changed from coach to dad. The same……but different. And so special.
I love this man…….
You can watch the interview below if you haven’t already seen it. Hope to see him back next year.