Photo via Kenya Hunter on Twitter

IU basketball: How did Indiana steal Kenya Hunter away from UConn? It was all about relationships

Kenya Hunter had a good thing going at UConn.

As a respected assistant at one of the top programs in the country, and with most believing the Huskies were a program on the rise once again, it seemed like just a matter of time before Hunter earned his first head coaching job in the profession.

But then an old friend picked up the phone, and before he knew it, Hunter was packing for Bloomington.

IU head coach Archie Miller was perhaps the only person that could have made that call with any kind of realistic expectation that Hunter would listen.

It’s a relationship that goes back more than 25 years.

“I’ve known (Miller) since he was 15 years old and coached him with his dad when I was in college on the AAU program and then was able to coach him in college at N.C. State,” Hunter said.  “It was one of those things that you say the stars align right, I think it aligned right for this to happen.”

Further complicating things to make it work for Hunter in Bloomington was the timing of Miller’s call.

Coaching changes in college basketball typically happen in the spring soon after the season ends.

But the late departure by former assistant Bruiser Flint to Kentucky necessitated a late replacement by Indiana.

“It happened really quick and normally guys don’t change jobs going into August and I tell people all the time it was an opportunity at an inopportune time but it was an opportunity that I didn’t think I could pass up because of it being Indiana, the history and tradition that they have here, and because of who wanted me to be here with him, Archie Miller, Hunter said.

“Arch and I and his family have  known each other for a very long time so that that was my reason for this time right now.  There’s not too many jobs that you are right at this time going to get up and pack up and move myself and my family but because of the situation like I said because of being a person that I’ve known for a very long time and I trust in and I believe in as a coach and so that was the reason for this this opportunity and me coming to Indiana at this point.”

Hunter has ties to Miller’s dad John, and brother Sean as well.  He coached Archie with John in the senior Miller’s Pittsburgh based AAU program.  Later Hunter was on the N.C. State staff when Archie was a player, and an assistant on the Sean’s staff at Xavier.

In many ways, Archie is almost like a younger brother to Hunter.  He has stories on the IU head coach that he could share — but he won’t.

“I can’t tell the one story that, it would embarrass his dad,” Hunter said.

That’s how far back and how deep the connection is.  And that’s why Hunter has picked up and moved to Bloomington.

Well, that’s at least part of the story.


And yet still more than just a relationship

Connections only go so far in the cut throat business of college basketball.

If Hunter did not bring something to the table for IU, something substantial, Miller would have looked elsewhere.

No one knows this better than Hunter, a more than 20 year pro in the business.

Hunter spent five years in the Big Ten at Nebraska working under Tim Miles.  He knows how to game plan for Izzo, Painter and Gard.

“It’s not my first rodeo coming into this league,” Hunter said.  “There’s a high respect of coaches in this league so when it comes to game-planning I know you have to be really locked in to each scout. I know how important that is. Me having that experience being in this league for five years is definitely going to help.”

There is no doubt that Hunter’s background will help with game-planning.  As will Miller’s comfort with him based on a more than 25 year relationship.

Hunter also arrives at IU with a reputation for developing big men, with a history that goes all the way back to Roy Hibbert at Georgetown.

But really, that was all just the syrup on top.

What really made Hunter so attractive to his old friend?

Let Hunter tell you.

“Don’t get it twisted. I’m here to recruit,” Hunter said.

With deep ties in basketball hotbeds such as the Washington D.C. metro area, Chicago, and the Northeast, Hunter gives IU connectivity where it needs it the most.

Hunter leveraged his connections to help pull-in a top-10 2021 class at UConn.  That followed a top-25 2020 class.  He also helped Nebraska land some of its highest rated recruits ever during his time in Lincoln.

Hunter knows what job one is as he gets settled in at IU.

Miller has successfully followed through on his stated goal of recruiting the state of Indiana first.

If Hunter does his part, he will deliver complementary additions to the roster that give IU the complete “inside-out” look that Miller promised.

“I’ve got to do my job of bringing talented kids to this University,” Hunter said.

And if he does that?

“Hopefully I can come in and be a help to this program and move it in a direction where every year we are competing for championships. That is our goal here.”

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