Ron Hunter joined Seth Davis (left) Ernie Johnson (center), Steve Smith and Hunter (far right). This was the second time Hunter has worked with an NCAA broadcast crew. He joined a CBS telecast when he was coaching at IUPUI. (Turner)
The Ron Hunter media caravan continued on Thursday night with the Georgia State men’s basketball coach serving as a guest analyst for TNT’s broadcast of the NCAA tournament from its studios in Atlanta.
After watching R.J. Hunter hit a 30-foot shot to defeat Baylor in the second round of the NCAA tournament, and subsequently falling off his stool celebrating, both Ron and son R.J. have become media darlings. In print and online alone, Georgia State has accumulated more than 5,000 articles written about Georgia State between March 18 and March 22.
But Thursday was about the visible medium of TV and its personalities, which included the silky smooth talker Ernie Johnson, and silky smooth shooters Steve Smith and Dennis Scott.
Let me, along with help from Mike Holmes and TNT’s public relations department, take you behind the scenes with photos, Q&As and other items to give you both a 300-foot and 3-foot view of what the night and past week has been like for the Hunters.
Here’s Hunter preparing for the telecast. As you can see, Hunter is still wearing a cast. The good news is Hunter won’t need surgery. Hunter said he has two goals regarding recovery: he will dance at his daughter Jasmine’s wedding on May 24 in Atlanta, and he’s going to play golf by July 15. (Mike Holmes / Georgia State sports)
The TNT crew had a little bit of fun when R.J. Hunter came onto the studio. R.J. has a certain look that I’ve never been able to put my finger on. It didn’t take the wizards in the graphics studio long to nail it.
Here is a photo of RJ with that crew:
You know those funny graphics with the heads of the on-air talent put on different bodies and different situations that you see on Inside the NBA and on the NCAA tournament pre-game? It takes a designer just a few minutes to craft those. That’s where the RJ-as-Prince came from. Afterward, the designer asked R.J. if he was headed to the NBA. R.J. said he didn’t know, but wasn’t going to tell if the designer he kept making fun of his Prince look. Hunter later said he would likely make his decision within a week. (Mike Holmes / Georgia State Sports)
As his father taped his pre-game segment, R.J. relaxed in the Green Room.
R.J. Hunter relaxes by playing with his phone while his dad taped his segment. R.J. said he got about three hours of sleep Wednesday night, the most he has gotten in a while. After hitting the shot against Baylor he said followers on Twitter (@RJH_22) grew from 2,000 to 5,000 and followers on Instagram grew from 3,000 to 7,000. (Doug Roberson)
Here’s more evidence of how popular R.J. Hunter has become in the past week:
When he walked into his Spanish class on Tuesday, everyone gave him a standing ovation that he said lasted 10 seconds.
On Thursday night, as father and son watched games in the Green Room, Ron found a tweet that he had to show R.J. It was sent by someone working in the studio: “RJ Hunter just said excuse me while walking past me. best day ever”
I asked Ron Hunter if he would be in the studio if he hadn’t fallen off his stool.
He said he thought that moment added to the experience. He said he thinks the father/son element is what really made everyone take notice of their relationship and Georgia State. He said he’s heard from lots of fathers who have called, emailed or stopped him saying “Me and my son watched that.”
The other interesting thing to come from the “Florida fall” was Hunter hearing from the White House correspondents, who he said issued a statement following his apology for telling President Obama that he made a mistake picking against Georgia State in his bracket. “I realized I had reached a bigger stage,” he said.
Ron Hunter’s left leg began to hurt so they brought a box for him to rest it on. The only problem was his wiggling toes could be seen in part of the frame. Later, Hunter shared a stat that just 20 teams in Division I have won at least 25 games in the past two years. Georgia State is one. (Doug Roberson)
After they finished taping the pre-game segment, the four men came back to the Green Room. Ernie Johnson and Steve Smith were kind enough to answer a few questions.
Ernie Johnson and R.J. Hunter in the Green Room.
Q: Does Ron have a future in this business?
A: He doesn’t want to hear that right now. He’s got a future coaching, is what he’s got. He was great. Coaches are great on TV. They are able to explain things and break things down so that the average fan can understand them.
His personality is tremendous. The country and the whole world got to see that over the last 10 days. They can’t get enough of this guy. He’s a breath of fresh air.
Q: Where were you and what was your reaction if you got to see R.J.’s game-winning shot?
A: I was in the studio in New York at the time. We were in the middle of one of our halftime shows. That game was coming to an end. We said when we come back we are going to update the Baylor-Georgia State game. Things are tightening up. And then Kenny yelled something to my left. We came back and showed it and showed him falling out of the chair.
Q: That’s great TV.
A: I must have seen that replay 15 times and I laughed as hard the 15th time as I did the first when he tumbled out of the chair.
Q: How many years have you been going to watch Georgia State games. I’ve seen you a few times.
A: I was there, I haven’t been to a bunch but I’ve been on occasion. I talked to the team one year. Took my son down there. One of Ron’s assistants was a good family friend and my daughter still goes to Georgia State. I’ve been to football games. She was in the band. She was on the drum line. I would go down to the Dome with my camera and take pictures of her.
2 1/2 good shooters: Steve Smith, Ron Hunter and R.J. Hunter wait in the Green Room between segments.
Q: How would you describe R.J. Hunter’s shooting stroke?
A: Beautiful. Compact. Coach’s son. Fundamentally sound. After that, it’s good to be 6-6 and have a stroke like that. Not a lot of guards or wing guys will be able to match up and block it. Smooth.
Q: Better stroke than yours?
A: Easy (laughs). Nah, I love to see a guy already have the fundamentals of shooting the basketball. He can work on increasing his range. He already has the fundamentals. He’s always going to be a good shooter.
Q: Do you think he’s an NBA-caliber player?
A: Talent-wise, yes. I thought that last year watching him. Talking to his dad, I know for me my junior year (at Michigan State) it was the same scenario. Skill-wise, I think he’s there. Whenever you want to test yourself, whether it’s this year or next year, physically getting stronger is something he has to do.
Knowing him, knowing Ron, he’s putting in the work. But still, he’s slightly built and being able to take that pounding is going to be the challenge whether he takes it this year or takes it next year.
But skill-wise, yes (he’s ready).
Q: What would you do if you were him?
A: That’s tough. We had such a good team coming back at Michigan State, I was having such a good time being in college, if I’m him I look at my position, who is coming out and who is potentially coming out next year. There’s so much to weigh.
The good thing about is I feel sorry for so many young players, who don’t have a great support system. You don’t really know where you are going unless you are No. 1.
Having that support system of his dad and his mom, even his sister, he’s getting great advice. He will make the right decision.
Q: Who would you compare R.J. to in the NBA? Who does he project into being similar to?
A: What’s underrated is his ability to make plays off the ball. He did that more two years ago. When you have (Ryan) Harrow and Kevin Ware, they are smaller guys who can handle the basketball so he could play off the ball.
I like his versatility. He has a smooth game. Reminds me of Allen Houston, his demeanor.
His skill level is pretty high.
One already drives a Mercedes-Benz. The other wants to: Ron Hunter has said he will buy his son whatever car he wants if he will return to Georgia State for his senior season. (Mike Holmes)
On to more goofy things
Ron Hunter hasn’t been shy about saying he will buy R.J. Hunter any car he wants, give him anything he can to get him to stay at Georgia State.
The first thing he needs to buy him is a new phone. Hunter’s phone is cracked.
When I pointed that out, R.J. Hunter said: “Give Doug a microphone a please,” while staring at his dad.
Now, what kind of car would R.J. want?
“A Mercedes-Benz truck, white, with red velvet seats,” he said and laughs.
Ron Hunter said he’s thinking more like a Ford Pinto.
“You might as well buy me a Smart car,” R.J. Hunter replied.
As they were jabbing at each other, Dennis Scott walked in, saw Hunter’s foot and laughed.
It wasn’t because he thought it was funny. He pulled up his pant’s leg and showed his own scar from surgery on his Achilles.
After they shared medical stories, Scott, a pretty fair shooter in his day at Georgia Tech and in the NBA, pointed to R.J. and said, “Like the stroke. Let it fly.”
Ron Hunter seems happy at Georgia State. (Turner)
Q: In the past week, athletic director Charlie Cobb has announced a new practice facility for basketball and volleyball, an increase in the salaries of the assistants, a new digital scoreboard for the Sports Arena, and trying to book more charter flights for basketball. What does that commitment to the program mean to you?
A: There are a lot of things that can happen, but what the administration is showing me in being really committed to basketball is something that I’ve been looking for. That means a lot to me. It means more to me than the money you make and those things.
I asked you this, I asked everyone when I first came to Georgia State: What happened when Lefty Driesell went to the tournament? Why did it fall off? My biggest concern is that we maintain and continue to do what we do. The dropoff, from what Lefty did, the commitment to the program probably weren’t done at that time. That’s important to me.
I don’t want to be a one-year wonder. I don’t want to go back to being an average basketball team. It’s important to build on this.
Q: Were you nervous in the studio?
A: Me talking and nervous? No. Just talking basketball, I can do that forever.
Q: You’ve said you are happy at Georgia State, does this commitment to basketball strengthen that desire?
A: No question, it absolutely strengthens it. It’s one thing for people to talk about it. It’s one thing for people to say ‘We’ll throw another year or two on your contract.’ But I’m 50 years old, if I’m going to stay at a place it has to be a place that really wants basketball. The President (Mark Becker) and Charlie really want basketball to fly. That’s important to me. The things they are doing now really mean more to me than more money in my salary.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com