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Friday, January 25, 2008
Hunter coaches barefoot, and sneakers come flooding in

ESPN.com news services

IUPUI coach Ron Hunter looked natty in his black shirt and cream-colored vest and slacks, ready to coach the Jaguars against Oakland University in a Summit League game Thursday night.

The only things missing were his shoes.

It was the most visible facet of his campaign to collect athletic shoes for children in need in Africa, something he started a month ago after meeting Samaritan's Feet founder Emmanuel "Manny" Ohonme.

Hunter's original goal was collecting 30,000 pairs. After news of his endeavor started to spread and shoes started coming in, he mentioned he might increase the goal to 40,000, in honor of the 40th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

By tip-off, he had 110,000 pairs.

A crowd of more than 1,000 attended the game at IUPUI Gymnasium -- and some of the students showed up barefoot, in support of Hunter. The school announced that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security had donated 10,000 pairs, with the possibility of more to come. Soles4Souls, a Nashville-based charity, donated 40,000 pairs. Wal-Mart gave 25,000; Nine West, a women's shoe company, offered another 5,200. Converse donated 15,000 during Hunter's appearance on ESPN Radio's "Mike & Mike in the Morning" on Thursday.

When we started this I thought 40,000 was going to be tough. When they told me before the game we already had 100,000, honestly, I almost broke down in tears.

-- IUPUI coach Ron Hunter

"When we started this I thought 40,000 was going to be tough," Hunter told the Indianapolis Star. "When they told me before the game we already had 100,000, honestly, I almost broke down in tears."

Most of the shoes are being shipped directly to Samaritan's Feet, based in Charlotte, N.C. The non-profit group was started four years ago by Ohonme, a Nigerian whose own goal is to get shoes to 10 million people in 10 years.

"Imagine if every coach would pick a game to coach barefoot and use their influence," Ohonme told The Star. "We'd exceed our goals pretty quickly.

"And we're getting e-mails every couple of minutes from people who want more information or to say they just bought a pair," Ohonme added. "Plus, there's all these high school coaches around the country who say they want to coach a game barefoot."

Hunter, with a fresh pedicure, coached the Jaguars to a 82-69 victory. He's not noted for sitting down during games while he's wearing shoes, and that applied to his shoeless state as well.

"My feet hurt so bad," he told The Star after the game. "But imagine a child or a human going their whole lives without shoes."

Hunter, 43, has said he has been deeply affected by Samaritan's Feet and the mission he's joined, and his players have been touched as well. Some of them are intending to join Hunter this summer, when he flies to Africa to help distribute the shoes. Hunter has said he would like to go specifically to Cameroon, the homeland of Jaguars freshman guard Christian Siakam.

And, according to The Star, a man with no ties to IUPUI has offered to charter a jet to fly the team and the shoes to Africa -- pending NCAA approval, of course.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.