William Inman, 404-413-1355
Since first taking off his size 13-1/2 shoes and working the sideline against Oakland University on Jan. 24, 2008 to raise awareness for Samaritan’s Feet, GSU Head Basketball Coach Ron Hunter figures the organization has helped put shoes on thousands of children around the world.
On Thursday, Hunter will coach his fifth annual barefoot game when his Panthers, currently ranked second in the Colonial Athletic Association and winners of a school-record 11 consecutive games this season, host conference foe UNC-Wilmington at the GSU Sports Arena. Tipoff is at 7 p.m.
|First-year Head Basketball Coach Ron Hunter has led the Panthers to a stunning turnaround this season, winning a school-record 11 consecutive games. Hunter will coach barefoot to raise awareness for Samaritan's Feet at 7 p.m. Jan. 12 when the Panthers take on UNC-Wilmington at the Sports Arena.|
Hunter, GSU's first-year head coach, has coached a game in his bare feet in each of the last four seasons in support of Samaritan's Feet, whose mission is to collect and distribute millions of pairs of shoes to poor children around the world. Other coaches around the country have followed his lead and have begun coaching barefoot for a game this time of year.
“I always try to schedule the game around Martin Luther King Jr. weekend and the National Day of Service,” Hunter said. “Martin Luther King Jr. was a very special man in this country and even more-so in the city of Atlanta. I am truly humbled to be able to perform this service and hope that I can continue to make a difference in the lives of so many children.”
Hunter has also traveled with the organization to Peru, Costa Rica and, this past summer, to Nigeria where he helped distribute shoes to needy children. In 2008, when Hunter was head coach for Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI), he took his entire team to Peru for a series of exhibition games and to have his players give out shoes. First, they washed the children’s feet, then they helped the kids slip on their new socks and shoes. For many children, those were the first socks and shoes they’d ever worn.
“When you wash the feet of a child, put socks on their feet for the first time and then give them their first pair of shoes, it is an amazing experience,” he said. “Just to see the smile on their face and know that we are making a forever-change in their life is incredibly humbling and rewarding.”
Hunter says he plans to take his GSU team to Africa this summer so they can experience what it’s like to make such a simple, but profound change in a child’s life.
|While on a trip to South Africa with Samaritan's Feet, GSU Head Coach Ron Hunter presented a silver cross to a girl at Buck Road Primary School in Mitchell's Plain, South Africa. Afterwards, he washed her feet and fitted her with a new pair of shoes.|
Besides the promise of a trip abroad, Hunter has clearly made an impact on his team. To begin the season, the Panthers lost three straight games. Since, they reeled off a school-record 11 consecutive wins before losing Saturday at George Mason 61-58, a team picked to finish second in the CAA.
Before falling to GMU, they dispatched two of the top three preseason conference favorites, including VCU, a team that made it to the Final Four last season.
So what happened after that season opening tournament in Seattle that sent the Panthers home at 0-3?
“I learned a lot about this team and this team learned a lot about me while we were in Seattle,” Hunter said.
This team is same one that finished 12-19 last season, the same team picked to finish 11th in the CAA and a team that Hunter inherited when he took the job back in March.
“We had to change and buy into the winning mentality that I have talked about since day one,” he said. “Everyone thinks it takes time to start winning, but we are showing that it can happen quickly and we see no reason to stop now. My question is ‘Why can’t we be that next team?’”
That question has inspired a team with six seniors to buy in to Hunter’s full-blown culture change.
“When a new coach comes into a situation with as many seniors as we have, basically two things can happen: The team can buy into what the coach has to say, or they can basically just go through the motions until they graduate. This team bought in completely. I knew the team had talent, but they just didn’t know how to win. Through last spring and into the summer, we needed to figure out what it was that would make this team click and we were able to do that.”
After those benchmark wins against VCU and Drexel, the Panthers have not only learned how to win, they’ve carved out an identity – that of a team that wins with smothering defense.
That role has been a culture change for Hunter, too. In his 17 years at IUPUI, his teams were known for their offense and up-tempo pace.
“We have mostly won games with our defense, which is something that I am not necessarily accustomed to. I’ve had to change myself in some ways, which is strange because I had coached the same way all my life,” he said. “But there are still things we need to continue to work on, especially on the offensive side of the ball, but we are getting there day-by-day. We want to take things one game at a time and if we do that and perform the way we are capable of, special things will happen.”
For Hunter, orchestrating the Panthers’ surprising turnaround has been “a pretty incredible ride,” he says, but the “Original Barefoot Coach” says that nothing compares to the feeling of making such a big impact on needy children with this charity.
“It is hard for me to put into words what is means to be a part of something as special as Samaritan’s Feet as they have really changed my life,” he said. “Being able to see the difference we are making in the life of a child is a joy that cannot be replicated by winning a basketball game, a championship or a national title.”
The Georgia State community is invited to attend this unique game and support Samaritan's Feet. The special price of $22 includes a ticket for the game and a $10 donation that will help provide shoes for a child in need.
CLICK HERE to purchase in advance, using the Promo Code FEET.
Tickets can also be purchased at the GSU Sports Arena box office, in advance or on game day. Season ticketholders and others already holding tickets for the game can make their $10 donation at the game by visiting the Samaritan's Feet table in the main lobby. Donations can be made with cash, check (payable to Samaritan's Feet) or major credit card.
Panther fans who are unable to attend the game can still support Samaritan's Feet. Donate by texting SHOES to 85944, and a $10 donation will be added to your cell phone bill. Message and data rates apply.
On Monday, Jan. 16, Hunter and Georgia State Athletics will partner with After School All-Stars to pay a visit to City of Refuge, where 200 local children in need will receive shoes from Samaritan's Feet.
This local outreach effort will take place on the Martin Luther King holiday from 10-11:30 a.m. at the Blank Family YMCA. Coach Hunter, along with his team and other GSU student-athletes as well as representatives from After School All-Stars, will distribute the shoes to the children.
Jan. 9, 2011