After turning down Ball St. job, |
coach reiterates loyalty to team
By ERICKA P. THOMPSON
Ron Hunter is a wanted man and has been since 2003. Fortunately for IUPUI, he’s not running.
Recently turning down the head coaching job for Ball State University’s men’s basketball team, Hunter says leaving IUPUI for a few extra thousand dollars doesn’t make sense. He wants to continue building his program and hopefully give it a name alongside teams like IU, Purdue and Butler.
“We’ve got great tradition,” he told the Recorder. “In regards to the Division I aspect of the program, this is something we’ve built from the ground up.”
Enter Hunter’s office and you’re automatically drawn to his biggest coaching achievement, which can be seen hanging on all four walls. Newspaper clippings from the Jaguars 2003 lone NCAA tournament berth gave the school and its basketball program national recognition. Hunter desperately wants to return to the tournament and he wants to do so as coach at IUPUI.
“I’ve been contacted every year since 2003 (to coach at other schools),” he said. “When it’s time for me to leave there won’t be any questions or concerns, I’ll know. I’m OK if I don’t leave.”
When the Jaguars star player, George Hill, heard that Hunter might be leaving for Ball State he admits he was little upset.
“I was suspect at first wondering why he would leave now?” he said. “I was thinking I shouldn’t have come here if he was going to leave.”
After he sat down with his team, which he calls the best he’s ever had on paper, Hill says he was impressed with his coach’s loyalty.
“It means a lot that no matter what, he stands behind us,” he said.
Loyalty is a word that has become synonymous with Hunter. After the team’s NCAA berth in 2003 he seriously contemplated leaving for a coaching job at Cleveland State. At a press conference he announced he was staying because he was not only loyal to the university but the team, the fans and the city.
Matthew Crenshaw, who hit the infamous shot against Valparaiso in the Mid-Continent tournament game to send the Jags to the tournament, is now an assistant coach and he says Hunter’s loyalty is a reason he accepted the position.
“He loves the program and feels he has more to do here,” he said. “I think it would be hard to leave what you’ve built. He’s not only loyal to the program but he really believes in what we have here.”
Asked if the racist comments towards former Ball State coach Ronny Thompson and NCAA infractions deterred his decision, Hunter says no.
“You have to think about all those things at any school,” he said. “There’s good and bad at every school. None of those things factored into my decision. My decision was strictly about IUPUI and my people wanting me here.”
Hunter openly questions why people are surprised he’s so committed to IUPUI. It is hard work he admits. He has to recruit players to come to a school that has to win the conference tournament to play in mid-March, the team is rarely, if ever on national TV, and as he puts it, “we have the worst facility in college basketball.” But he has had good players that have played professional overseas and graduated.
“If you look at how long Bob Knight stayed at IU, Gene Keady stayed at Purdue and Cameron Drew stayed at Valparaiso, it’s interesting that nobody questioned their loyalty to their school,” he said. “I find that interesting especially when it comes to African-American coaches. (People) assume as soon as something better comes along we want to run. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
Hunter says his thing is longevity and he enjoys coaching at an institution that wants him.
“How many African-American coaches have been in one spot as long as I have?” he says. “This is my passion and my purpose. I love IUPUI. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.”