Hunter happy to return to IU under Woodson

The patience Indiana’s players had to display in the wake of head coach Archie Miller’s firing, assistant coach Kenya Hunter had to do the same.

“My biggest thing was to sit still and let things happen,” Hunter said.

That doesn’t mean Hunter, who came to IU from UConn in August, didn’t put out feelers about other jobs as he waited. He couldn’t be sure who IU athletic director Scott Dolson would inevitably peg as a replacement for Miller. Regardless, it wasn’t going to be someone Hunter had as deep of a relationship with.

Hunter coached Miller on an AAU team in the 1990s. He then spent time with Miller the player at N.C. State.

But Dolson asked Hunter to wait. As a member of the transition team with fellow assistant Mike Roberts, they were on the phone with players and parents daily, keeping everyone updated. When it was revealed Mike Woodson would be the next person in charge of IU’s program, Hunter had to make his own decision.

“Everything happens for a reason, and I’m here, I feel like, for a reason,” Hunter said. “The work that I’ve done and the amount of time that I’ve been here, I think the relationships that I’ve built with our players and the staff people around, I think that was one of the biggest things.”

Woodson maintained some continuity by bringing back Hunter, along with new assistants Dane Fife and Yasir Rosemond. He also kept Roberts, building out the support staff around IU men’s basketball by making the IU alum assistant athletic director for basketball administration under associate AD Thad Matta.

Continuity brings value. Hunter provided Woodson with some insights in the days after he arrived, watching film together and talking about players and game plans.

“Some of the things he wants to implement from the NBA style to college excites me,” Hunter said. “Him being an Indiana graduate, his blood, sweat, and tears were shed here and I think he’s going to put a lot of effort and time into making this a program everyone can be excited about. I wanted to have the chance to be a part of that.”

In keeping Hunter, Woodson retained a coach who has relationships with current players, as well as players the Hoosiers had targeted in recruiting. Xavier Johnson, a transfer from Pittsburgh, had a relationship with Hunter that goes back to recruiting at Nebraska. Parker Stewart, who transferred to IU midyear from UT-Martin, came to IU’s program because of his relationship with Hunter.

Asked about Stewart, specifically, Hunter turned the subject to the sum of Woodson’s work. As the gap between Miller’s firing and Woodson’s hire lengthened, IU had as many as six players in the transfer portal. The fact that Trayce Jackson-Davis, an NBA prospect, didn’t make himself the seventh says a lot.

“Coach has done an unbelievable job,” Hunter said. “For Trayce to come back and not even put his name into the portal is a helluva thing. That speaks volumes of Coach Woodson, and most of the guys that returned, Race (Thompson). We were talking to them and their parents every single day, and that has to continue.

“Yeah, we lost a couple of guys, but we felt like the majority of the guys we got back, we could continue to build 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 pushed off his NBA dreams for another season, and Rob Phinisee, Anthony Leal, Trey Galloway, and Jerome Hunter didn’t waver on IU once Woodson entered the picture.

Woodson has been 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. They have to find players who fit Woodson’s four-out offensive vision, which means shooting remains a priority as IU continues to look in the portal.

IU’s first pickup, Johnson, is a driver with some tenacity.

“What he brings to the table is something that we missed a little bit last year. … He has a gift, especially in transition, to create not only for himself but for others,” Hunter said. “He’s a guard, first step-wise, that can get feet in the paint. He’s continuing to get better with his 3-point shot. There’s still a lot of work to be done there.

“As a junior in college … he has an opportunity to come in and, through his work and his preparation, hopefully galvanize the team as far as leadership. I think we need that on this team, to be quite honest.”

Stewart, another junior, is also experienced, and he brings shooting to the floor. The 6-foot-5 guard just came to IU under unique circumstances, following the unexpected death of his father, UT-Martin coach Anthony Stewart.

Last year just wasn’t the right time for Stewart to return to the floor. Hunter, who lost a parent himself this past year, understands the grieving process takes time.

“It’s day by day,” Hunter said. “He’s going to have his good days and bad days, and the reason why he came here is, when he does have those bad days, there are people in his corner who support and understand his situation.

“I know from talking to his mom, she’s very excited about him being here and how she feels like he’s adjusted pretty well.”

After a couple of days away from IU recently, Hunter returned to a bit of good news about Stewart. Matta told him the shooting guard hit 20-of-21 from 3-point range during a practice session.

The pieces are coming together, though it’s still a process. The coaches have to get to know each other. Hunter said, on the recruiting trail, prospects are still curious what exactly Woodson’s style will be. As the NCAA moves toward implementing a rule that allows a one-time transfer without sitting out, recruiting players on the current roster will become just as important.

There will be challenges, but Hunter feels good about the place he finds himself.

“I just think the more we continue to learn each other, I think this is going to be a heckuva situation,” Hunter said. “Our whole staff is pretty much here. Every day is like getting to know each other, and it’s been exciting and fun.”

11 comments

  1. There are, in my humble opinion, at least 16 “bigs” in the transfer portal that, on paper at least, could really help IU next season. If Woody wants another guard, there are probably ten in the portal worthy of waring candy stripes. IMO, we already have enough guards, and now we need two bigs. Two forwards or one center and one forward, both of whom can score at the rim, would make for a formidable roster.

  2. I found the following paragraph in a story in The Dailey Hoosier; “The bottom line is that the state of Indiana is going to be less reliable than normal when it comes to producing high major basketball recruits, at least for the foreseeable short term. And that’s where Indiana’s new trio of assistant coaches come in.”

    As I have argued since before Crean was fired, those IU fans who insist IU’s BB coaches adhere to an “Inside/Out” recruiting strategy are naive. That recruiting strategy is in direct conflict with the demand and collective expectation that IU BB assembles the talent necessary to win Big Ten Championships and go deep into the NCAA Tourney.

    It’s a good article supported by irrefutable data, and it suggests that IU’s BB braintrust prioritized assistant coaches who give IU with the ability to cast a much wider recruiting net. Hunter’s connections are in the east and northeast and have already paid dividends. Rosemond has connections in the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast (SEC country), and Fife is well-connected throughout the Midwest.

    So Hoosier fans should not complain or criticize Woody for replacing the Inside/Out strategy with Outside/In. Woody has no choice! He knows that his first priority is to build teams that win big, and he can not afford to have his recruiting constrained by fans/boosters who hold to nostalgic notions about where most of IU’s BB players grow up.

    Demographics is destiny!

    1. I can’t totally agree with dropping the inside-out talent hunting expeditions. I see too many schools outside of Monroe county having great fortune with a large abundance of Hoosier HS ballers. The backyard is to fertile with abundant talent, to close, and to important to not make the top priority for recruiting. Simply needs assigned to an assistant in that manner. If Coach Woodson wants a blend from across the country he’ll make it happen.

  3. HC, I didn’t mean to imply that Woody and staff are going to ignore Indiana HS’s best BB players. The article I referenced doesn’t say that either. But in terms of the number of top-tier HS BB players, the article documents that the pickings are going to be slim for the next few years. I’m sure Woody, having grown up in Indy and understanding what IU BB means to the state will continue to recruit the best homegrown talent as long as the state’s best players are good enough to meet his expectations. It’s just that he can no longer rely on his home state producing enough high level talent to meet the Hoosier Nation’s expectations.

    At the end of a season, the fans remember what IU’s record was and how far they went in the NCAA Tournament. They care a lot less about where IU’s players grew up.

    1. At the end of a season, the fans remember what IU’s record was and how far they went in the NCAA Tournament. They care a lot less about where IU’s players grew up.

      LOL…So the entire advertised “Movement” and “Everything Hinges” campaign was because Indiana fans could care less about the fact Cody was the first top-tier center in many, many years not poached from other programs outside Indiana (e.g. Zeller’s brothers, Lyles, Plumlees, Oden, etc)? And those same fans didn’t care or didn’t realize, said top Indiana center could influence some others at “Indiana Elite” to follow him to Bloomington?

      Without the fans caring about other programs building their Final Four runs off the backs some of our best talent, there are no Sweet Sixteens and no BigTen Titles for Crean. All there would have been was uncoachable low b-ball IQ NBA wannabees of The Traveling Jersey Wing Spans Pipeline flailing their limbs while Danny Moore and Jonny Marlin spit-cleaned their sneakers.

      No, the Indiana fans didn’t care at all….Landing Cody Zeller did nothing for Crean or the subsequent momentum…or the idea that maybe, just maybe the BETTER talent from our great basketball state actually cares about playing the game at Indiana University.

      You might want to check on most those top guys plucked from our state and some of the names I listed above. Most have played in Final Fours…..Don’t try to explain the lack of a Final Four as if it’s a problem with our talent. The other programs taking our better talent and our top bigs (may I now also add Mitch McGary to the list?) had the coaching to deliver upon the momentum. We did not. We had a jukebox mouth who had no clue.

    2. Believe me IU fans are very much interested that Indiana’s Mr. BB goes to IU and very nearly as much about the next 4 most heralded players the state produces every year.

  4. a. If The “Dailey” Hoosier is so great, then maybe put the dissertations there (though, for the life of me, it’s hard to figure how those people can’t get the spelling correct for their blog)?
    b. If “outside” means A-Hope projects beyond toe-tripping projects , the sons of NBA coaches who are not the highly touted son (the Jeremiah favor rather than the Austin baller), guys who can’t figure out which hand to shoot the basketball after a year of college (Stan Robinson), or a California hot dog who models white leggings and who thinks way too much of himself (Max “You’ll soon know who I am Hoetzel” ) , then the “outside” means a septic tank.
    c. Let’s stop pretending. Other than Zeller, Crean missed on all the top Indiana recruits (e.g. Lyles, Robinson, Gary Harris, Nic Moore…and countless others). He took in A-Hope projects as an arrangement with Adams.
    d. Nine years of Crean was only saved a complete disaster because of an ideology sales pitch which lured Cody to Crean. We need kids who love the candy stripes and consider Hoosier Basketball their religion rather than using Hoosier Basketball to promote one.
    e. Don’t expect objectivity at these independent “Hoosier” blog sites/forums where any Tom, Dick, or Harry wannabe journalists with DAILY personal agendas can write nonsense without the accountability and pursuits of objectivity demanded by ownership of content by legit newspapers/news organizations (e.g. Herald Times, Indy Star, etc). You might as well be reading ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’…They sensationalize everything and fill it with personal agendas. Basically, their hot off the toilet seat articles are the amateur equivalent of a “commenter” ….e.g. Those who couldn’t get a full time job in the profession and simply operate on the fringes via their amateurism.

  5. Preferably:…A preferred guide….order of preference that lead to championships.
    Choice 1. Every single player for IU basketball would be from Indiana high schools including coaching.
    Choice 2. There may be coaches other than from state of Indiana.
    Choice 3. There may be coaching and reserve players from state of Indiana. All starters are from state of Indiana.
    Choice 4. Coaching, reserve players, and starters are a mixture of players from Indiana high schools and outside of Indiana high schools who are recruited into Indiana University. (majority from Indiana)
    Choice 5. Everything is 50/50 split or half and half.
    Choice 6. State of Indiana has less than 50% representation of players and staff representing IU basketball.
    Choice 7. Pretty much all coaching staff and players come from places other than Indiana.
    Choice 8. 0 (zero) state of Indiana representation.
    Conclusion: Indiana University basketball does have a state of Indiana flavor but there is much opportunity to work on in regards to geographical state of Indiana representation where its citizens live.

  6. We need the Indiana kids to create the “illusion.” It’s branding…..much like Harlem is to Globetrotter.

    Bloomington/IU should feel honored to have ownership of the “Hoosier” name which means so much beyond the basketball just played at IU. Don’t forget …those Globetrotters wore their own version of a candy stripe uniform/shorts and may have been part of Knight’s inspiration to emulate “the look.”

    https://cdn1.creativecirclemedia.com/sportshistory/original/20200409-185407-curly.jpg

    If we don’t put the best talent from Indiana into those “Hoosier” stripes, then maybe Indiana loses some of the driving forces and the branding that creates the love for the game and inspires every youngster to pick up a basketball and head to the barn, the playground, the driveway to one day dream of being the next Hoosier Globetrotter in candy stripes?

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