Cinderella Arrives For Big Dance On A Scooter

One of the seven teams joining Arkansas in Jacksonville, Fla., for the NCAA Tournament is a Cinderella squad that plays like the Razorbacks in Georgia State, whose head coach Ron Hunter tore his achilles tendon while celebrating his team's clinching a berth in the Big Dance and who has two kids with national championship rings.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Georgia State may not be known as a powerhouse, but the Atlanta school posing as Cinderella does have some familiar names to college basketball fans and an entertaining - yet injured - head coach.

The Panthers’ roster includes two players with national championship rings in former Louisville guard Kevin Ware - who had a gruesome knee injury during the 2013 tournament - as well as former North Carolina State and Kentucky point guard Ryan Harrow.

Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter will be coaching hurt as he tore his achilles while celebrating his team’s low-scoring 38-36 win over Georgia Southern in the Sun Belt Championship.

Hunter - who arrived at Wednesday’s press conference on a scooter to talk about the 14th-seeded Panthers (24-9) facing third-seeded Baylor on Thursday - been hearing it from his players, including his son R.J. Hunter, an 6-5 shooting guard and NBA prospect.

“You would think I would have a little more sympathy with my son with this, but he has been wearing me out,” Coach Hunter said. “I want him to come back and play for me next year, but all the jokes, he can go ahead and leave now. It’s been absolutely crazy how he is killing me with this.

“But I am happy for them, just to see the smiles on their faces,” Hunter added. “…They have actually been hiding my scooter.”

Georgia State and Baylor will be the lid-lifter at 12:40 p.m. CST of four games Thursday at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.

Sixth-seeded Xavier will take on 11th-seeded Ole Miss around 4:20 p.m. with fourth-seeded North Carolina and 13th-seeded Harvard meeting at 6:20 and fifth-seeded Arkansas and Wofford playing the final game around 8:50. It’s not gone smoothly for Hunter in terms of getting around on his scooter.

“I fell once,” Hunter said. “I fell yesterday because I am not use to driving the thing and then one of my players said they wanted to test me for drugs, said I was drinking and driving.

“…And instead of helping Coach up - the 50-year old coach that falls down - they’re all laughing and thinking it is one of the funniest things,” Hunter added.

“I told them, ‘that’s okay. As soon as I get healthy and conditioning starts again, we’ll see how funny this thing is,’” Hunter continued.

R.J. Hunter, averaging 19.8 points per game and pictured above helping his dad up after the injury, claims it is mostly Ware getting on his dad, not him.

“It’s been a straight joke,” Hunter said. “This (Ware) is the comedian right here. He’s got all the jokes for him. And it’s just funny trying to see him maneuver on the bus and into the restaurants and into his chair, but I think he has been enjoying it. He’s getting a lot of pub from it so he’s enjoying it, too.”

Coach Hunter was asked if there was a conflict of interest in trying to keep his son playing for him for another year instead of heading to the NBA. R.J. Hunter a 6-5 junior shooting guard - is projected as a Top 20 NBA pick if he comes out this season.

“There’s no conflict,” Hunter said. “I’m going to buy him a car, give him a lot of money, new clothes when we are done with this…I’ve already talked to a car dealer. He is going to have so much stuff in his room.

“I can illegally recruit somebody and get away with it and that’s what I am going to do,” Hunter added. “…I’ve got his mom a nice gift that she doesn’t even know about. He can’t say no to mom.” Hunter has had a lot of free offers of help because of the injury.

“I haven’t set down in 23 years coaching and I don’t plan to,” Hunter said. “What I have gotten, which has been great, I’ve gotten a lot of guys that want to give me free things in regards to how to get around.

“Some guy just made a new crutch he wants me to try out,” Hunter added. “The Roller Board company said they’ve got this roller board they want me to give me for the game, so I am saying yes to all that.

“So just send it to me free and we’ll try all that,” Hunter continued with a laugh. “I’m going to coach the way I’ve always coached and it’ll be a little bit painful, but it’s worth it to me.”

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Ware’s injury while at Louisville was gruesome, but he said there was really not that much pain.

“It wasn’t painful at all, surprisingly,” Ware said. “I didn’t know my leg was broken at the time. Only reason I did know was because of (Louisville head) Coach (Rick) Pitino’s eyes and they got huge like they do when he is mad.

“I just kind of glimpsed down at my leg and that’s when I saw it,” Ware added.

Harrow - once Kentucky’s starting point guard - averaged 18.7 per game as a fifth-year senior while Ware added 7.7.

Harrow is currently rehabbing an injury and hopes to play on Thursday.

“I’ve been doing rehab like three times a day,” Harrow said. “I’m trying to get myself ready. It’s going to be a game-time decision.

“…Obviously I won’t be 100 percent, but as long as I can do my rehab and get out there on the floor, I will,” Harrow said.

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Baylor head coach Scott Drew and Hunter met up in a game in 2003 when Hunter’s IUPUI team took down Drew’s Valparaiso one.

“That wasn’t a good memory for me,” Drew said Wednesday. “But Coach Hunter has a great personality. He’s very energetic. That’s why his injury is going to affect him.”

Drew joked that Hunter would not longer be able to help Georgia State on its press.

“On the sidelines, he gets moving and there’s no coach that traps as well as he does in the corner,” Drew said. “I know their team is going to miss that energy that defense he provides.”

Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter gets around on his scooter at Monday's practice.

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