Saturday, March 15, 2003

Hunter backs up his antics with results

Former Miami standout leads IUPUI to first NCAA Tournament

The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS - The midcourt bellyflop by IUPUI coach Ron Hunter gave him a scraped knee and national attention.

To fans used to Hunter's sideline antics, the celebration after winning the Mid-Continent Conference tournament was actually rather tame. But that doesn't mean the moment wasn't significant - Hunter had led the Jaguars to their first NCAA Tournament berth.

"I'm telling you, there's no other coach on the planet like him," forward Josh Murray said, laughing.

That's for sure. Few coaches show the sort of exuberance - or engage in the sort of shenanigans - that have built Hunter's reputation. He rarely sits during a game, once broke a leg while coaching, and has been to known to take a dive at midcourt after the final buzzer.

Hunter just can't help himself.

"It's me, it's my personality," he said. "Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight have their personalities, and I have mine. I can't sit down."

Instead, Hunter marches up and down the sideline, flailing his arms, shouting at players and officials.

And these antics have been part of Hunter's act for quite some time.

His high school coach called this week to talk to Hunter and remarked that he hadn't changed a bit. Former NBA star Ron Harper, who was Hunter's teammate at Miami University, recalled Hunter landed on him with a bellyflop after they beat a rival in the 1980s.

And when Hunter's eighth-grade daughter went to school Wednesday, she was greeted by about 50 friends flopping around like her father.

They choreographed that stunt. Hunter insists he doesn't plan his. "It's all real. I don't know what I'm doing until I see it on tape."

If Hunter isn't the most animated coach in America, he's certainly endured the most pain.

His bleeding ulcers are under control thanks to medication, and doctors once sent him to the hospital after a game because they thought he had a heart attack.

But nothing compares to January 2001, when Hunter broke his leg by stomping on the floor during a game against Youngstown State.

"He went down," Murray said, laughing uncontrollably. "That was the funniest thing I've seen him do. I'm going to tell my grandkids about it, and I guarantee they'll break down and laugh, too."

The injury didn't slow Hunter, though.

School officials ordered a chair with wheels so he could continue going up and down the sidelines. That lasted only a few games before Hunter fell out. He stood the rest of the season.

"The wheels didn't help me," Hunter said. "I tried to play it like no one saw it. But you can tell them that this is a guy who has endured a lot of pain coaching IUPUI."

After making three NCAA trips as a player, Hunter worked for one season at Miami. Then he moved on to Wisconsin-Milwaukee as an assistant coach and helped the Panthers move from NAIA to Division II to Division I.

In 1994, IUPUI hired Hunter to take it down the same path. The team won just nine games the season before he arrived; now, in the school's fifth Division I season, it's headed to the NCAA with a 20-13 record after upsetting regular-season champion Valparaiso 66-64 Tuesday in the tournament final.

Hunter hasn't slept much since, because he wants to savor the moment.

"I've had nine years building this thing, and I don't want it to go away in just a few days," he said.

Hunter isn't sure what to expect when he steps on the court next week for the first round of the NCAA. But he knows this - he won't be sitting down.

He just hopes to walk away uninjured.

"I've seen it on SportsCenter, I see it everyday," he said, referring to the bellyflop. "I don't even remember doing it. But I've got a big scar on my knee to remind me I did it and two big holes in my pants. Everyone is healthy, except for the coach."

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Top 25: Tech shocks Texas
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