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

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

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.”

(MORE: Click here to read NBCSports.com’s Sun Belt Conference Preview)

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.”

VIDEO: Mixtape for North Carolina-bound Nassir Little

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Nassir Little is one of the most improved players in the high school basketball ranks, going from being a guy that was a borderline five-star prospect to being a potential No. 1 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.

At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan and athleticism to burn, he has all the makings of being one of the switchable wing defenders that are en vogue in the modern era of the NBA.

Former UNC star Phil Ford has surgery for prostate cancer

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina says former point guard Phil Ford has had surgery for prostate cancer.

Team spokesman Steve Kirschner said Wednesday that Ford underwent the procedure Tuesday after he was diagnosed during his annual physical. Dr. Eric Wallen, the UNC physician who is treating Ford, says the cancer was caught early because Ford “has been proactive regarding his health.”

Ford played for Dean Smith in the 1970s and scored 2,290 points, a mark that stood as the school record until Tyler Hansbrough broke it in 2008. Ford also spent 12 seasons as an assistant to Smith after a seven-year NBA career in which he was the rookie of the year in 1979.

Bruce Pearl: ‘Good chance’ Auburn returns four players testing the waters

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Bruce Pearl told reporters on Monday that there is a “good chance” that his Auburn program will return all four of the players that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft.

“I think there’s a good chance they’re all going to consider coming back,” Pearl said. “There’s a chance they’re all going to come back, but that’s been the case since the beginning.”

“I just feel as we get closer to the deadline and they gather more and more information, I think that chance improves. It would not surprise me, still, to see a couple of them stay in.”

Those four players are Mustapha Heron, Austin Wiley, Bryce Brown and Jared Harper. Brown was the leading scorer for the Tigers last season, while Heron was arguably their best player and Harper a steady floor general that is the piece that holds everything together. Wiley did not play after he was ruled ineligible as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball. If he returns he will be eligible to play the 2018-19 season.

Heron will be the most interesting decision of the four. A former McDonald’s All-American, when he declared for the draft last month, he announced that he intended to sign with an agent. But he has told reporters in the last week that he never actually signed and is still “50-50” on whether or not he will return. He was not invited to the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago last week. Wiley was, but he did not make enough of an impression to earn himself a first round guarantee. Brown and Harper are very unlikely to be drafted, but both juniors will get feedback from NBA teams on what they might need to do to play their way into the league.

Auburn is coming off of a year where they shared the SEC regular season title with Tennessee, but they struggled down the stretch of the season after Anfernee McLemore suffered a gruesome ankle injury. As it stands, under the assumption that Heron and Wiley are gone, we currently have the Tigers ranked as a top 15 team in the country in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25.

With Heron and Wiley back, however, Auburn will have the pieces to make a case as one of college basketball’s five best teams next season.

Forward Lance Thomas transferring from Louisville

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With Anas Mahmoud out of eligibility and Ray Spalding having made the decision to enter the 2018 NBA Draft, new Louisville head coach Chris Mack had some holes to fill in the front court ahead of his first season at the helm. There’s now another departure to account for, as it was announced Tuesday afternoon that 6-foot-8 forward Lance Thomas has decided to transfer.

Thomas, who will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at his next school, appeared in 12 games for the Cardinals last season and averaged 2.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.2 minutes per game.

Losing Thomas may not appear to be a big deal based upon his production as a freshman. But, given the combination of player departures and misses on the recruiting trail this spring it can also be argued that Louisville is not in a position where it can afford any more personnel losses.

Louisville is now down to four scholarship players in the front court, wings V.J. King and Jordan Nwora and forwards Malik Williams and Steven Enoch, with Enoch eligible after sitting out last season after transferring in from UConn.

Williams made 12 starts as a freshman, averaging 3.8 points and 2.4 rebounds in 10.6 minutes per game, with King averaging 8.6 points per game and Nwora 5.7 points per game. Enoch played in 29 games at UConn during the 2016-17 season, averaging 3.4 points and 2.3 rebounds in 12.1 minutes per appearance.

Four-star wing Romeo Weems commits to DePaul

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DePaul landed its first verbal commitment in the Class of 2019 Tuesday afternoon, as four-star small forward Romeo Weems announced that he will be a Blue Demon. Weems, who attends New Haven HS in New Haven, Michigan, picked DePaul over Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State and Oregon and is considered by most major scouting services to be a Top 50 prospect in the 2019 graduating class.

The 6-foot-6 Weems plays his grassroots basketball for The Family on the Nike EYBL circuit, averaging 15.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game this spring. Weems also has experience playing for USA Basketball, as he was part of the Under-16 team that won the FIBA Americas U16 title last year. Weems will also be part of the training camp from which the Under-17 team will be selected next month in preparation for this summer’s FIBA Under-17 World Championships.

DePaul managing to land a commitment from a prospect of Weems’ caliber, a versatile wing who can defend multiple positions while also being productive offensively, could be the shot in the arm that Dave Leitao’s program so desperately needs if they’re to improve their standing within the Big East.

Since making the move from Conference USA in 2005, DePaul has finished above .500 in a season just once (20-14 in 2006-07) with that also being the only time in which the Blue Demons finished above .500 in Big East play (9-7). Since Leitao, who led DePaul to its most recent NCAA tournament in 2005, returned for his second stint at the school the Blue Demons have gone 29-65.

Getting out of Allstate Arena and moving to the new Wintrust Arena ahead of last season was an important move for the DePaul program, but it’s been clear that the rebuild won’t be a “quick fix.” Bringing in a talent of Weems’ caliber should help DePaul moving forward, with the key now being to recruit well enough to ensure that the talented wing has ample help when he arrives on campus next year.

Among the players currently on the roster who will have eligibility remaining in 2019 are guards Devin Gage and Justin Roberts and wing Darious Hall, who will sit out the 2018-19 season after transferring to DePaul from Arkansas. Hall appeared in 35 games for the Razorbacks this past season, averaging 5.1 points and 3.1 rebounds in just under 15 minutes per game.