Ron Hunter’s learning to be Coach Dad as he goes with son, Georgia State star R.J.

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For the past 24 years of his life, Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter has been a father. The learning process of being a parent never ends, anyone with kids can tell you that, but when you spend 24 years being Dad, you figure out a few tricks of the trade.

Hunter played his college ball at Miami (OH) with Ron Harper, but once his playing career came to an end, he took up coaching. That was back in 1987, meaning that this season will be his 27th on the sidelines. He helped lead IUPUI through the transition from NAIA to Division I, he’s reached the NCAA tournament and he sent a player, George Hill, to the first round of the NBA Draft. He may not be Mike Krzyzewski, but it’s safe to say that Hunter has a good feel on how to do his job.

But the 2012-2013 season provided Hunter with a new experience in his second year with the Panthers. His son, R.J., enrolled at GSU for his freshman year, meaning that Ron was no longer just a coach and a father.

Now he was Coach Dad, and that provided him an entirely new set of challenges.

“The easiest part is being coach,” Hunter told NBCSports.com. “I’ve been coaching kids for 27 years, so I can do that. But I’ve never been dad during our games. So that’s been the hardest transition, to try to be dad in the game. I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t figured that part out yet.”

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R.J. was a three-star recruit coming out of Pike HS in Indianapolis, the same program that sent Marquis Teague to Kentucky. He got plenty of attention and had a handful of high-major offers, but made the decision to play his college ball for pops, and thus far it’s worked out. As a freshman, R.J. averaged 17.0 points and 5.1 boards, exploding for some huge games in CAA play: 38 points against Old Dominion; 27 points at Towson; 27 points at Northeastern; 25 points at George Mason.

GSU finished the year just 15-15, but with a move to the Sun Belt this season coming at a time when the Panthers return three players that averaged more than 14 points and add Kentucky transfer Ryan Harrow to the mix, all of a sudden Hunter has a team that looks like it can make the NCAA tournament and win a game there.

And his son is the star, a guy with a chance to be the next in the Steph Curry-Damian Lillard-C.J. McCollum pipeline.

That’s been the hardest part.

“You want to be proud of the kid and cheer, but sometimes I’ve got to be quiet to be proud of him,” Hunter said. He can’t wear Georgia State jerseys that say ‘R.J.’s dad, and he can’t pound his chest and scream ‘That’s my son!’ every time he buries a three. Coaching your son is an incredible experience, but it forces Ron to sacrifice son of the most fun parts of being a dad. “We can only have so many moments together. I can’t boast about it. I’m the coach.”

R.J.’s play as a freshman was noticed by folks in the NBA, and he’s planted himself firmly on their radar. But that’s also created an awkward situation for Ron. When front office types call him, how does he answer their questions?

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“When I get questions like this I don’t know whether to answer like a dad or like a coach,” he said. “When NBA guys will call and ask me, what do you really say when it’s your son? ‘He is a good player?'”

“The dad part, is boy, you’d love your son to be able to do that. But you’ve got the coach part that says, ‘Man, he’s really talented, and I haven’t coached a kid that talented since George Hill. I think he has the skill set.’ It’s kind of weird talking about it.”

Hunter has talked to friends that have coached their sons — Ray McCallum, Homer Drew — about how to handle having your best player also be the kid whose diapers you changed. He also had R.J. speak with quite a bit with Bryce Drew about how to deal with being the head coach’s son, and while both felt like they entered last season prepared, it was still a difficult transition to make.

“Just learning how to separate the court from the family,” R.J. said. “Early freshman year, I didn’t really know how to separate it. I was frustrated often, as I learned and the season went on, I just kind of separated myself a little bit and we kind of had our relationship on the court, and as soon as that was over, it was dad and son again.”

The best news for R.J. is that he isn’t fighting this battle alone: he’s got mom on his side, and she made quite clear that she won’t tolerate any squabbling in her house hold.

“Mom is the perfect middle woman,” R.J. said while admitting that being the son has some advantages over being the husband. “Her having my side is good, but sometimes I’ll take some of my compliments to her and she doesn’t want to hear it. She does a good job of balancing both, but I’d say I get about 70% of the love.”

That’s made life as a coach’s kid that much easier for R.J.

“The hard part has to do with mom,” Ron said with a laugh, “because I’ve got to come home at night. We lost at Duke, the first game I’ve ever coached him, and we really enjoyed the first time together was at Duke, but I remember yelling at him. When I got home that night, there was no dinner. I said, ‘What’s going on?’, and my wife said, ‘When you yell at my son, you don’t eat.'”

“So I’ve got to pick and choose when I go in on him now.”

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.