ATLANTA — Coaching can be a painful business.
Just ask Georgia State’s Ron Hunter.
His team is heading to the NCAA tournament, but Hunter’s got to figure out a way to coach the Panthers with his left leg in a cast after a freak injury at the end of their victory in the Sun Belt Conference championship game.
One of the country’s most animated coaches, Hunter leaped off the bench when Georgia Southern’s final shot — a potential game-winning 3-pointer — bounced off the rim.
His Achilles tendon was torn.
For now, Hunter is getting around on a four-wheeled scooter, pushing the device with his right leg. He’ll have to come up with another plan for Thursday’s game in Jacksonville, Florida, when the 14th-seeded Panthers take on No. 3 seed Baylor.
“I’m not worried about me,” Hunter said Monday, sitting along the sideline in Georgia State’s downtown Atlanta gymnasium. “I am worried about the communication with my players. They’re used to me coaching a certain way.”
He’s constantly in motion, usually jumping out of his seat on the first possession and bolting up and down the sideline, barking instructions and waving his arms.
“There’s no way I’m going to be able to sit down,” Hunter said. “I haven’t sat down in 23 years. Maybe I can put on some roller skates. Maybe I can convince the NCAA to let me have my little scooter here. I’ve got to come up with something to let me get up and down the floor.”
Hunter quickly cleared up one misconception that came up in the immediate aftermath of his injury. During the celebration, the television cameras caught his son R.J., who also happens to be Georgia State’s best player, sprawled on top of his father.
Naturally, some figured R.J. had caused the injury.
The bond between R.J. and his father runs deep, of course, but this victory was especially sweet. A year ago, Georgia State romped through the regular season with only one conference loss, only to miss out on the NCAAs because of an excruciating overtime loss in the final of the Sun Belt tournament.
Now, with R.J. perhaps winding down his college career — he could skip his senior season to enter the NBA draft — this might be their final chance for them to experience the madness together.
“I have not seen R.J. that excited since he was 6 years old, when we got him his first basketball,” the coach said, remembering Sunday’s celebration. “His eyes were so big. As a father, I really enjoyed that.”
R.J. felt the same way when he looked into his father’s eyes, even with all the pain.
“After everything we went through last year, the heartbreak, and some of the ups and downs this year, it’s hard to put into words,” the son said.
Of course, Hunter can expect plenty of good-natured ribbing leading up to Thursday’s game against the Bears — especially from Kevin Ware, who transferred to Georgia State after suffering a gruesome broken leg in the 2013 NCAA tournament while playing for eventual national championship Louisville.
“I was like, ‘C’mon, coach, you didn’t even play. How’s that even possible?'” Ware said. “I told him, ‘You’re not going to hear the end of this. Not for a while anyway.'”
This isn’t the first time Hunter has injured himself on the sideline.
A few years ago, in his previous job at IUPUI in Indianapolis, he stomped his right foot so many times that he wound up with a stress fracture. He still managed to make it through the season, as he proudly points out to anyone who brings it up.
Now, he’s dealing with a much more serious injury as Georgia State heads into the tournament for only the third time in school history.
It may limit his mobility, but it won’t dampen his enthusiasm.
Especially with his son along for the ride.
“When I’m coaching him here at Georgia State, I always have to be coach. I can never be dad,” Hunter said. “On Thursday, I’m going to be dad for the first time. I’m going to enjoy this experience with my son. We may never get to the NCAA tournament together again.”
This article was written by Paul Newberry from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.