Ron Hunter was happy in Atlanta. He and his wife, Amy, had a brand-new grandchild, and the couple had just completed their retirement home. Hunter had built the perpetual losing Georgia State Panthers into a winning basketball program and during his eight-year tenure directed it to six postseason appearances, including three trips to the NCAA’s March Madness.
The thought of leaving never entered his mind — that is, until Tulane came calling.
“It was going to take something special for us to leave,” Hunter said. “And I knew if I had to think about it, I wasn’t going to do it.”
He didn’t have to think about New Orleans or Tulane. “When it was presented to me, I said, ‘I’m doing it.’”
From the time he arrived on campus, with a welcome that included beignets and a second line, Hunter hasn’t looked back. In just a few months, he has become a true New Orleanian, eating oysters, riding the streetcar and gearing up for Mardi Gras. He has even developed relationships with the Saints and the Pelicans, including rookie phenom Zion Williamson.
But the fun takes a back seat to the work he is doing on the Tulane basketball court. His goal when he arrived was to turn the Green Wave into a winning basketball program and convincing the Tulane and New Orleans communities that his team is worth filling the seats for at Avron B. Fogelman Arena in the Devlin Fieldhouse.
“A losing culture is tough to change,” Hunter conceded. “And that’s the thing you have to change — the culture. You have to change how you walk, how you talk. It starts with the culture, and it starts with me.”
His expectations for his team — and himself — are lofty and, in some ways, unimaginable. A winning season in his first year, followed by a trip to March Madness, are among the things on his to-do list.
“If I finish .500, you’re going to have to put me an an insane asylum,” he said, only half joking.
“We want to get to the NCAA tournament ever year. When you’re trying to build a culture, you have to have extremely high standards, and I won’t let anyone around me change that.”
His message to would-be fans: “Give us one chance. Come and watch my team play. I promise our kids will play hard and you’ll feel the energy in the arena.”
Above photo: Ron Hunter (by Parker Waters)