By Ed Daniels, Clarion Herald
Three years ago, when Tulane hired its new men’s basketball coach, Riverside Academy head coach Tim Byrd sounded prescient.
“Lots of question marks,” Byrd said of Mike Dunleavy. “You need someone who is high energy, hungry and understands Louisiana players. You need a coach with a college work ethic. This (college) is a totally different game than the NBA.”
Three years later, Tulane named Georgia State’s Ron Hunter as its new basketball coach. The hire is the fifth since Perry Clark left for Miami after the 1999-2000 season.
Three years later, Byrd, winner of 12 state basketball titles, gives Hunter a thumbs up with a twist.
“This time they hired a college coach with a winning record,” said Byrd. “The only question is whether he can get high-major talent.”
In an interview last weekend with an Atlanta TV station, Hunter said he will try to keep the best players “home.” But, he also said he will recruit Atlanta “hard.”
Country Day head coach Mike McGuire, who recently won his fifth state basketball championship in 11 seasons, said he’s impressed with Hunter.
“He did a heckuva job where he’s been,” said McGuire.
Hunter won three Sun Belt titles at Georgia State in five seasons. In 2014-15, Georgia State won the regular-season championship, the conference tournament and upset Baylor in the NCAA Tournament to reach the third round.
McGuire said if Hunter wanted the challenge of coaching in a new league, he got it. “The American (Athletic Conference) is a different animal,” he said.
Hunter, 54, told the Atlanta TV station that “he met all the goals that he wanted to get done” at Georgia State. If Hunter wanted a new hill to climb, he chose a steep one. Since 1953-54, Tulane has won double-digit conference games only once, when the Green Wave won 11 in 1996-97.
In the past 10 seasons, Tulane has won three or fewer conference games six times, including going winless in 2019.
So, what did Tulane director of athletics Troy Dannen do? He duplicated his football hire. Willie Fritz, who led Tulane football to a bowl victory in his third season, was an established head coach at a Sun Belt Conference school (Georgia Southern).
Hunter has 25 years’ experience as a head coach, including the last eight seasons at a Sun Belt Conference school.
One of Hunter’s best and worst basketball moments occurred at UNO’s Lakefront Arena. In March 2015, Hunter tore his Achilles tendon celebrating Georgia State’s victory in the Sun Belt finals, one that secured a bid in the NCAA Tournament. As his teams and fans celebrated, Hunter had to be helped to the bench.
In his post-game press conference, Hunter was asked for a pain level, 1 to 10?
“Seventeen,” said Hunter. But, he added a qualifier: “This will be the best bus ride home I have ever had.”
Hunter was brought to Tulane to deliver those moments.
Ed Daniels is sports director of ABC26 WGNO. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.