1-on-1 with Head Coach Ron Hunter
GeorgiaStateSports.com: How did you end up with three high-major transfers?
Ron Hunter: When you get here, one of the first things that you have to do is know where you are in the landscape. One of the things that I’ve done is all of my (head) basketball coaching career has been urban institutions. From Wisconsin-Milwaukee to IUPUI and now here, and you have to do it with local kids, a lot of times kids who have gone other places and have come back home. With all my successful teams, that’s happened, that’s been a part of it.
If you’re not in the transfer business right now, you’ve lost out on recruiting. That’s a big part of recruiting right now, especially at mid-majors and urban institutions. If you don’t do that, there’s no way to win these days. It didn’t used to be that way when I first got in this business, but now that’s a big part of it. So you have to recruit kids the first time around knowing you won’t get them, but then you might get a chance the second time. That’s just part of the recruiting cycle and one of the things we did when we got here. We wanted to make sure everyone knew we were in that business.
GSS.com: Back when you were an assistant coach did you ever think that you’d someday end up with this type of recruiting philosophy?
RH: (Transfer recruiting was) never a part of it. You talk about last 5-6 years, over 550 kids transferred each year. Back in those days when I was an assistant, if you saw 50 kids transfer in those days, that was a large number. And so you could see how large the number has grown in the past 10 years, and in my opinion, it has really taken the place of junior college recruiting. Because of the transfer thing, what you’ve seen is junior college recruiting go down, down, down. When you talked about transfers years ago, it used to be junior college kids; now not so much. It’s usually about that four-year kid transferring.
GSS.com: Have you ever had this many transfers at one time?
RH: Probably not this many playing at the same time. Generally it’s two playing, one sitting out; One playing, two sitting out. But where you have all of them playing, this is really the first time I’ve had where there’s really no one sitting out. My first year here, it was Manny (Atkins) sitting out. Usually we’ve kind of had that. Last year, Curt (Washington) sat out. This year (it has happened) because Ryan Harrow was declared eligible immediately and did not have to sit out.
It’s not the easiest thing. I think some people assume just because they come in you’re going to be able to be great. When we started off the season, we were more like a glorified AAU team than we were a college basketball team because you have to bring all those talents together and pull off some of the bad habits they have, or some different habits they’ve got so that they fit the way you want.
GSS.com: Has that changed your coaching style this year?
RH: Not necessarily because I’ve had that before. Those things take time. I’ve always said that generally, transfers and junior college transfers, it takes a while for them to get (acclimated). Junior college kids, it’s toward the end of the season, four-year transfers it’s generally about mid-season before they get to where they’re playing the way you want.
GSS.com: Are you were you thought you’d be at this point in the season?
RH: I mean, yeah. We had to go through some things to get here. If we had started the season off 7, 8, 9-0, I’d be worried about it. Because what happens is when you start so successful early, you don’t know what’s wrong with you. Then when it gets bad, it’s generally in the middle of the season before you find out the problems.
We found out early what’s wrong and we were able to fix them and so we’re at a process now where we’re comfortable with what we want to do. As a coach, I’ve had to change some schemes up to fit what we can do with these guys. When you’re winning, you don’t change anything, and I never would have made some of the changes and it would have caught up to us.
GSS.com: With such a hodgepodge start, was it hard to know what to expect or how the team would respond?
RH: Even when we were struggling, we knew we had a good team. Expectations are generally for fans who don’t know. And so what happens is when you’re not undefeated, 30-0 and in the Final Four, they don’t understand it. But at this level, it’s a process. The first thing I said this summer is there’s a process to winning and you can’t take shortcuts to do it. If we had taken a short-cut early, it would affect us later in the season. And that’s why we’re playing good basketball, but the exciting part is that we’re not playing our best basketball yet.
GSS.com: Before the season you talked about being willing to embrace the high expectations. Have you seen that from the team?
RH: They have. They embraced it the wrong way early. I think the expectations for them early got to them. From R.J. (Hunter) to Ryan (Harrow) to Devonta (White), I don’t think (the whole team) handled the expectations well because they thought, just like the fans thought, that it was automatic that we’d walk on the floor and be good right away. And it just doesn’t work that way and it shouldn’t work that way. So now, what they’ve done is a different embracement about it. (A), they have a better appreciation of it because they’ve had to work for it, and (B), they understand with the expectations, how hard you have to work.
GSS.com: Did Devonta have to work harder to get it back on track and fit into the process?
RH: I don’t know if anyone had to work harder, but you have to sacrifice, and we didn’t (earlier). Everyone – head coach, assistant coaches, players, everyone—has to sacrifice when you have a good team. Everybody can’t be the No. 1 scorer; everybody can’t be the No. 1 rebounder. We didn’t have roles and you have to have roles, and we didn’t really accept our roles in the first month of the season. We all wanted to be THE guy. So for us to make this work, everybody had to sacrifice — all the guys, from R.J. (Hunter) to Ryan (Harrow) to Devonta (White) to Manny (Atkins), to the guys off the bench, the guys last year who didn’t play much this year. It had to be a complete sacrifice by everybody, and a complete buy-in. It took us a little while to get there, but we’re there right now.
GSS.com: Did you see a point where it clicked, where the process finally took over?
RH: Not really. We were 3-6 and I told them “I can see the process coming.” I could see it. Most people couldn’t see it, but I kept saying “The process is coming.” I’ve been doing this long enough to know. Generally you know if it’s just not going to work. But I kept seeing little things here, little things there. It was like a puzzle and we kept putting the pieces together. I just felt good about it, but I kept saying “when is it going to happen?” not if. I knew it was more of a when.