Their relationship goes back more than 30 years and an inch or two of hairline when Ray McCallum was a player at Ball State and Ron Hunter was a player Miami (Ohio).
McCallum’s team won all three meetings in that 1982-83 season, but the friendship continued as both men took steps in their coaching careers in the Dairy State: McCallum as an assistant at Wisconsin in his second job and Hunter as an assistant at Milwaukee in his first.
Now, the two will work together at Georgia State, Hunter as head coach where he has been since 2011, and McCallum as his new associate head coach after he was let go by the Detroit Titans earlier this year. The hire was officially announced Wednesday.
“I’m here because of Ron,” McCallum said by telephone as he drove on a recruiting trip. “I have nothing but great respect for him as a coach and a person, what he means and what he’s about: a family man, the work he’s put in building this program.”
The friendship between the men and their families is strong: McCallum was at R.J. Hunter’s christening. You may catch photos on Facebook’s Throwback Thursdays of R.J., older sister Jasmine, Ray McCallum Jr. and older sister Brittany Rae when they were kids.
The two coaches shared advice about basketball and families as the children grew. The two shared advice about coaching their standout sons: the McCallums at Detroit and the Hunters at Georgia State. And they shared advice about having sons playing in the NBA: McCallum is a free agent after playing for San Antonio and Memphis last season, and Hunter is entering his second season at Boston.
But they never really discussed working together.
That changed when McCallum was let go by Detroit after going 16-15 last season for an overall record of 130-132 at the school. The Titans were one of two programs, along with Ball State, that McCallum led to an NCAA tournament as coach. He led three, both of those and Houston where he went 44-73 in four seasons, to appearances in the NIT.
After being let go by Detroit, McCallum said Hunter was one of the first to call to offer whatever support he could.
Then, Hunter lost two assistants: Everick Sullivan to become head coach at Lenoir-Rhyne, and later Darryl LaBarrie as an assistant at his alma mater, Georgia Tech.
“He said, ‘Come on, let’s work together,’” McCallum said.
With more than 30 years of experience in coaching, including stints as an assistant at powerhouses Michigan, Oklahoma and Indiana, McCallum thinks Georgia State has a lot of potential to continue what it did during the 2014-15 season when it defeated Baylor in the NCAA tournament.
“Talk about being a Cinderella, that was a statement,” he said.
But those years of wisdom also tell him that it is difficult to sustain success, particularly for a school that plays in the Sun Belt, a league that typically receives one bid in the NCAA tournament.
“When you are mid-major level, there’s so much competition and parity,” he said. “It’s a fine line between winning and losing.”
McCallum’s experience means he will recruit Atlanta, where he has signed several players in previous stops, the state and the nation. He was headed to Augusta on Wednesday, making a quick stop to eat a breakfast sandwich from Dunkin’ Donuts on the way.
“When you get an opportunity to work for a friend, and you can help a friend, that’s what it’s about,” he said.