When Ron Hunter wanted his son, R.J., to play for him at Georgia State, he reached out to former Valparaiso coach Homer Drew, who coached his son, Brice, in college. The elder Drew told the elder Hunter it was something they should embrace.
Hunter took Homer Drew’s advice.
In a twist that only can happen during March Madness, the Hunters faced Scott Drew, coach of Baylor and youngest son of Homer Drew Thursday, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament that never fails to amaze.
That they met is not the amazing part. This is: One of the NCAA Tournament’s most recalled shots is a three-pointer that Bryce Drew hit in 1988 to clinch the Valparaiso upset of No. 4 Mississippi. Coach Drew diagrammed a last-second play and his team executed it to perfection, with his son hitting the game-winner at the buzzer.
Twenty-seven years later, against Homer Drew’s son’s and Bryce Drew’s brother’s team, R.J. Hunter completed an improbable Georgia State comeback with a three-point basket with 2.7 seconds remaining for the win.
Coach Hunter, who tore an Achilles tendon in celebrating the Panthers’ conference victory, he fell
off the roller stool from which he coached on the sideline when his son’s shot fell through—an image that will be seen time and again, for years.
“I know something else is broke, but I don’t even care,” Hunter said. “It doesn’t even matter.”
What mattered more was he got to share an amazing moment with his son, who averaged nearly 20 points a game but prior to the final two minutes had been struggling with just four points.
“It was tough because I could see it in his face,” Ron Hunter said. “You know your kid, man. He was trying to figure out a way to get open and what they were doing it was kind of a mini box-and-1, just kind of tagging him off and getting him to the next guy. But what we noticed is it freed up the other guys so we said just keep moving and trust your teammates, somebody else has to make baskets and late you’ll be able to get them, and boy, it was right there.”
Hunter was glowing all post-game. He had made a conscious effort for three years to not give his son too much credit. After that finish Thursday, he let it go.
“I’m going to be dad right now,” he said. “I haven’t been able to do that in three years, so I wanted to say I’m proud of him.”
For his part, R.J. Hunter was much less excited, outwardly at least. After he hit the shot, instead of a boisterous celebration, he just turned toward the crowd with an expressionless face.
“I’m just thankful to God,” he said.
Hunter’s dad said he had seen that 30-footer before, giving him confidence the son would make it.
“That’s backyard stuff with pops right there,” the coach said. “For me, to do that on a big stage is definitely a blessing. I was numb, but I knew it was money as soon as I let it go.
“There are a lot of coaches that get to the (Round of 32) or the Final Four, but when you get to do it with your son and you can watch your son hit a half court shot, I can’t tell you how I feel inside,” Hunter said. “It’s unbelievable. I wish every dad in America could have that opportunity, what I just experienced with my son.”
The Drews know the feeling.