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

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Georgia State Athletics

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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.”

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.

Dream’s McDonald returning to Arizona to coach under Barnes

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TUCSON, Ariz. — Atlanta Dream guard Aari McDonald is returning to Arizona to work under coach Adia Barnes.

The school announced that McDonald will serve as director of recruiting operations while continuing to fulfill her WNBA commitments. She will oversee all recruiting logistics, assist with on-campus visits, manage recruit information and social media content at Arizona.

McDonald was one of the best players in Arizona history after transferring from Washington as a sophomore. She was an All-American and the Pac-12 player of the year in 2020-21, leading the Wildcats to the national championship game, which they lost to Stanford.

McDonald broke Barnes’ single-season scoring record and had the highest career scoring average in school history before being selected by the Dream with the third overall pick of the 2021 WNBA draft.

South Carolina, Staley cancel BYU games over racial incident

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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina and women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley have canceled a home-and-home series with BYU over a recent racial incident where a Cougars fan yelled slurs at a Duke volleyball player.

The Gamecocks were scheduled to start the season at home against BYU on Nov. 7, then play at the Utah campus during the 2023-24 season.

But Staley cited BYU’s home volleyball match last month as reason for calling off the series.

“As a head coach, my job is to do what’s best for my players and staff,” Staley said in a statement released by South Carolina on Friday. “The incident at BYU has led me to reevaluate our home-and-home, and I don’t feel that this is the right time for us to engage in this series.”

Duke sophomore Rachel Richardson, a Black member of the school’s volleyball team, said she heard racial slurs from the stands during the match.

BYU apologized for the incident and Richardson said the school’s volleyball players reached out to her in support.

South Carolina said it was searching for another home opponent to start the season.

Gamecocks athletic director Ray Tanner spoke with Staley about the series and supported the decision to call off the games.