The patience Indiana’s players had to show after head coach Archie Miller’s dismissal was also shown to assistant coach Kenya Hunter.
“My biggest goal was to sit still and let things happen,” said Hunter.
That doesn’t mean Hunter, who joined IU from UConn in August, didn’t spark feelings for other jobs while waiting. He couldn’t be sure who would inevitably use IU Sporting Director Scott Dolson to replace Miller. Regardless, it wouldn’t be someone Hunter had such a deep relationship with.
Hunter trained Miller on an AAU team in the 1990s. He then spent time with Miller, the NC State player.
But Dolson asked Hunter to wait. As a member of the transition team with his assistant Mike Roberts, they phoned players and parents on a daily basis to keep everyone informed. When it became known that Mike Woodson would be next in charge of the IU program, Hunter had to make his own decision.
“Everything happens for a reason and I’m here for a reason,” said Hunter. “The work I’ve done and the time I’ve spent here, I think the relationships I’ve built with our players and the staff have been one of the greatest things.”
Woodson ensured continuity by bringing Hunter back along with new assistants Dane Fife and Yasir Rosemond. He also kept Roberts on and expanded the support staff around IU men’s basketball by appointing IU alum sports director for basketball administration under Associate AD Thad Matta.
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Continuity brings value. Hunter gave Woodson some insight in the days after his arrival, watched movies together, and talked about players and fixtures.
“Some of the things he’s looking to do, from NBA style to college, excite me,” said Hunter. “He’s a graduate from Indiana, his blood, sweat, and tears have been shed here, and I think he will put a lot of effort and time into making this program one that everyone can look forward to. I wanted the chance to be part of it. “
In order to keep Hunter, Woodson kept a coach who has relationships with current players as well as players whom the Hoosiers had targeted when recruiting. Xavier Johnson, a Pittsburgh transfer, had a relationship with Hunter that dates back to the Nebraska recruiting. Parker Stewart, who moved to IU from UT-Martin in the middle of the year, joined IU because of his relationship with Hunter.
When asked specifically about Stewart, Hunter turned to the sum of Woodson’s papers. As the gap between Miller’s dismissal and Woodson’s hiring widened, IU had up to six players on the transfer portal. The fact that Trayce Jackson-Davis, an NBA prospect, didn’t make himself seventh says a lot.
“Coach did an incredible job,” said Hunter. “It’s a damn good thing if Trayce comes back and doesn’t even write his name on the portal. That speaks volumes for Coach Woodson and most of the returning guys, Race (Thompson). We talked to them and their parents every day and this has to go on.
“Yeah, we lost a few guys, but we felt like the majority of the guys we got back. We could keep building a team that Indiana fans will be proud of.”
Al Durham, Armaan Franklin and Joey Brunk are out, but Johnson, Stewart, Thompson, Jordan Geronimo and Khristian Lander are in. Jackson-Davis ditched his NBA dreams for another season, and Rob Phinisee, Anthony Leal, Trey Galloway, and Jerome Hunter weren’t wavering on IU when Woodson walked on the picture.
Woodson was able to adequately sell player development and NBA tactics to his players, and now it’s up to Kenya Hunter and his colleagues to build from there. You need to find players who match Woodson’s offensive vision, which means that shooting will continue to be a priority as IU will continue to check the portal.
IU’s first pickup truck, Johnson, is a driver with a certain tenacity.
“We missed a bit last year what he brings to the table. … He has the gift, especially in transition, not only to create for himself but also for others, ”said Hunter. “He’s a guard who can get feet in the paint first and foremost. With his 3-point shot he just keeps getting better. There is still a lot to be done there.
“As a junior in college … he has the opportunity to join and hopefully strengthen the team through his work and preparation through to leadership. I think we need that on this team to be completely honest. “
Another junior, Stewart, is also skilled and brings shooting down to earth. The 6-foot-5 security guard just came to IU under special circumstances after his father, UT Martin trainer Anthony Stewart, died unexpectedly.
Last year just wasn’t the time for Stewart to get back on the ground. Hunter, who lost a parent himself last year, knows that the grieving process takes time.
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“It’s day after day,” said Hunter. “He’s going to have his good days and bad, and the reason he came here is if he has those bad days there are people in his corner who support and understand his situation.
“I know from talking to his mother that she is very excited that he is here and how she feels like he’s adjusted pretty well.”
After being away from IU for a few days recently, Hunter returned to some good news about Stewart. Matta told him that the shooter hit 20 of 21 from 3-point range during a practice session.
The pieces come together, although it’s still a process. The trainers have to get to know each other. Hunter said on the recruitment path, prospects are still curious about what exactly Woodson’s style will be. While the NCAA implements a rule that allows for a one-time broadcast with no suspension, recruiting players on the current roster becomes equally important.
There will be challenges, but Hunter is feeling good about the place he is in.
“I just think the more we learn, the more this becomes a heckuva situation,” said Hunter. “All of our staff is pretty much here. Every day is like getting to know each other and it was exciting and fun. “