Georgia State’s Ron Hunter beamed as a proud father, not a jubilant coach whose underdog team advanced in the NCAA Tournament on his son’s late heroics.
UCLA’s Steve Alford, too.
R.J. Hunter scored 12 of his team’s last 13 points — all in the last three minutes of 14th-seeded Georgia State’s 57-56 opening-game victory over third-seeded Baylor in Jacksonville, Florida.
His final shot Thursday, with 2.7 seconds left, left Ron Hunter on the floor, unable to get up on his own because he was coaching less than a week after tearing his left Achilles tendon during another Panthers celebration.
Nearly 800 miles away in Louisville, Kentucky, Bryce Alford helped his father pulled off another upset, making four 3-pointers in the final 3:40 — his last on a goaltending call — to help 11th-seeded UCLA oust sixth-seeded SMU 60-59.
Ron Hunter has never been comfortable showering R.J. — the Panthers’ leading scorer — with praise. But when he arrived in Jacksonville with a team making just the third NCAA appearance in school history, he vowed to enjoy his son performing on college basketball’s biggest stage.
After all, he’s not sure how long he’ll continue to be able to coach his son.
R.J. is projected as a possible first-round NBA draft and faces a decision soon on whether he’ll return to Georgia State for his senior season or turn pro.
The Panthers coach began his post-game news conference by taking a moment to salute R.J. publicly.
“I’m going to be dad right now. … I haven’t been able to do that in three years, so I wanted to say I’m proud of him,” Hunter said.
Earlier in the week, the coach talked about how special it is to be able to experience the NCAA Tournament together. Dad participated in the tourney as a player at Miami of Ohio, and also led IUPUI to the Big Dance as a coach.
One of the reasons R.J. chose to play at Georgia State was help his father get back to the NCAAs.
“I can’t wait to go back (home) and celebrate as a dad because when you are the head coach of a program, it’s hard to say: ‘Hey, that’s my kid,'” Hunter said. “I’ve never been able to thump my chest and say, ‘Hey, that’s my son.'”
Steve Alford doesn’t talk much about his sons either.
A terrific shooter in college at Indiana, the coach — the son of a coach himself — noted he never made nine 3-pointers in a game.
“You make nine threes in a basketball game, and make it in an NCAA Tournament, in a game that’s close and a lot of pressure, you’re obviously doing some pretty good things. The kid knows how to play. He’s proven himself every day, and I’m very proud of him,” Alford said.
“He’s always being compared, obviously, because I played the game. … I’ve said it over the last two years now, he’s better than dad.”
The Hunters and Alfords are two of nine father and son combinations in the NCAA this season. And UCLA actually has two, with Kory Alford also playing for the Bruins.
The others are Bill and Tyler Self at Kansas, Florida’s Billy and Billy Donovan, Morgan State’s Todd and Blake Bozeman, Liberty Dale and Ethan Layer, New Mexico’s Craig and Cullen Neal and UL Monroe’s Keith and Lance Richard.
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