IUPUI coach continues push for children's shoes

August, 3, 2009
Ron Hunter found his cause two years ago: putting shoes on the feet of children in need across the globe.

With talk among the NCAA membership of taking away summer foreign basketball tours for cost-cutting measures, the IUPUI coach has come up with a plan to save the trips by combining them with an educational and uplifting good deed.

Hunter has teamed up with Crocs to gain access to 2 million shoes over the next two summers for teams to take with them when they go on a foreign trip. IUPUI will be in Costa Rica from Aug. 13 to 19. The Bowling Green women's team and the Bethune-Cookman men's team will be visiting the Central American country at the same time. Hunter contacted both schools and said they're on board to deliver shoes on the trip.

"We want to push for every school that goes on a trip to do this,'' Hunter said. "The country doesn't have to be impoverished."

Hunter said he contacted the group that organized the trip, Sport Tours, and said it backed the idea.

"This is a great way for college basketball to give back, not just have these trips be about basketball games and the practices before the trip,'' Hunter said.

Hunter made national news and became an ABC News "Person of the Week" after his decision to go shoeless and sockless for a basketball game in January 2008 to create awareness for children without shoes. He teamed up with an organization called Samaritan's Feet, and they've helped donate 2 million shoes over the past two years.

But he said he didn't want to be limited to just teaming up with Samaritan's Feet.

"I can reach a lot more people through college basketball," Hunter said. "I'm getting hit hard in our own country, too.''

Hunter said the NCAA has agreed to set up distribution centers for shoes at future Final Fours, including next season's event in Indianapolis.

Hunter is hoping that the National Association of Basketball Coaches uses his idea of making the trips more of a mission to help block legislation to cancel the endeavors. He said the NABC should mandate that teams going on trips do something charitable.

Last spring, the NCAA board of directors adopted legislation 2008-65, which prohibited trips during the academic year, specifically the excursions teams were taking over Labor Day weekend. Teams were getting 10 days of practice before the trips and then going to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean for a weekend. The legislation took effect Aug. 1; it excepted teams that had signed contracts before April 14, 2008.

Hunter said he wants the U.S. government to get behind the issue, too, and hopes that American soldiers who serve in the countries being visited could also aid in distributing the shoes.

Last summer, Hunter took his team to Peru to distribute shoes. He was supposed to go to Africa this summer but had back surgery in June that nearly took him out of recruiting for the second straight July. Hunter said 20,000 shoes still went to Africa, even though he didn't.

The surgery was for a herniated disc. Hunter said that he has recovered well, but that for two weeks after the procedure he couldn't move his left leg. He said he was well enough to go recruiting two weeks ago in Las Vegas, even though his doctors didn't want him to travel. He made it to an event in Los Angeles, too.

"This is a big recruiting year for us,'' Hunter said.

He also watched his son play. R.J. Hunter, a sophomore at Pike High in Indianapolis, is in the class of 2012 and plays with ESPNU's top 2011 point guard, Marquis Teague.

While the distribution of the shoes is becoming a larger part of the trip to Costa Rica, the event itself is still a major plus for the Jaguars on the basketball side. Teams are allowed these trips once every four years, and it couldn't have come at a better time for IUPUI. A year ago, the Jaguars were stunned when George Hill left early for the NBA. Hill now plays for the San Antonio Spurs.

"The George Hill thing caught us off guard,'' Hunter said. "Teams like ours have a hard time recovering from that.''

IUPUI finished 16-14 overall and 9-9 in the Summit League, seven games behind winner North Dakota State. But the Jaguars return seven of the top eight scorers, led by forward Robert Glenn (13.9 ppg, 5.4 rpg), last season's Summit Newcomer of the Year. Fellow forward Alex Young (10.8 ppg) also returns, along with junior LeRoy Nobles (9.9 ppg) and senior Jon Avery (9.2 ppg). The Jaguars bring in one of the top point guards in Indiana in Greg Rice and have point guard Stephen Thomas, a Dayton transfer, sitting out until 2010-11.

Hunter said Hill told him he's hoping to come on the trip to Costa Rica to distribute shoes, since he missed the trip to Peru last summer while playing in the NBA summer league.

"We can do so much more than we're doing,'' Hunter said. "Crocs wants to get medical, health aid involved on these trips, too. If we can mandate that if you go on these trips you have to do something for the children and make it an educational experience, that would certainly help.''

Helping continues to be Hunter's charge, and he's doing everything he can to encourage the rest of his profession to follow his lead.

• Donald Jackson, the attorney for Mississippi State incoming freshman Renardo Sidney, said Monday that he received an e-mail from NCAA attorney Alex Hammond demanding that he sign a confidentiality agreement or he cannot participate in any interviews with the NCAA on the Sidney case. Jackson, based out of Montgomery, Ala., said he will not sign a confidentiality agreement.

"I'm not going to do that,'' he said. "They can't impose that on me. I played college baseball at Alabama State and graduated in 1987 and that's when the NCAA stopped being over me.''

NCAA spokeswoman Stacey Osburn said the request was simply standard procedure

"As standard practice to ensure the confidentiality and integrity of an investigation, the NCAA Eligibility Center requires individuals to sign a confidentiality agreement before participating in third party interviews," Osburn said. "If he or she fails to do so, they will not be allowed to participate. Legal representatives may participate in interviews of their clients without a signed confidentiality agreement, as was the case with Mr. Jackson."

Jackson said the e-mail was sent because he has been outspoken in the case. Sidney is waiting to be cleared by the NCAA's Eligibility Center. The NCAA is looking into Sidney's amateur status after an L.A. Times story detailed how the family, which moved to Los Angeles from Jackson, Miss., was living above its means in homes near Fairfax High in the Los Angeles area. USC and UCLA backed off recruiting Sidney, allowing him to go to Mississippi State.

Jackson said the NCAA has requested tax returns covering the last four years from Sidney's grandparents and family members. But Jackson said the family won't turn over that information because there is no specific charge of a violation. "If they say there was a wiring of money on July 1 and we need to see information about July 1 then we will provide it,'' Jackson said. "This is an overly broad request not related to a specific violation. There's no legal basis for this.''

Jackson said the family has provided phone records and other supplemental information. The Eligibility Center interviewed the Sidney family in Jackson's office last month. Jackson said the 6-9 Renardo Sidney, who was rated No. 7 on the ESPNU top 100 for the class of 2009, graduated from high school in late June and could be admissible to Mississippi State soon. The NCAA could drag the investigation into his eligibility for months, but Sidney would need to be enrolled and taking classes so he could be ready to go if he were cleared. To get all the information on the case, Jackson said he requested from the NCAA all documents related to Sidney that weren't covered under the Family Education and Privacy Act. He said the NCAA hasn't honored that request.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer




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