Every practice, for Larry Hunter’s basketball teams, started the same way.
Two laps, full sprint, around the court. If anyone touched the lines, or cut corners, they’d keep running.
The exercise was simple but symbolic: You don’t win when you cut corners. And Hunter, a college head coach for almost four decades, won a lot — more than 700 games.
The former N.C. State assistant coach died on Friday at WakeMed Cary Hospital after complications from a massive stroke. He was 68.
He stepped down at Western Carolina, after 13 seasons, in March. Then his health took an unexpected turn with the stroke this past Sunday.
Hunter won 702 games in 38 seasons at Wittenberg, Ohio University and WCU. Before he took the Catamounts’ job in 2005, Hunter helped N.C. State and former coach Herb Sendek reach the NCAA tournament four times from 2002 through ’05.
“He was a tremendous coach,” said Julius Hodge, a former Wolfpack star whose four years overlapped with Hunter’s. “He was a great teacher, not only of the game, but in life,”
A coach’s coach, Hunter was known for his devotion to the details and to his players. His recent health problems were a shock to the coaching community.
"I join Coach Hunter’s family, friends, and our basketball community to remember the special ways he taught, inspired, and cared for us," Sendek, now head coach at Santa Clara, said Friday in a statement. "I most certainly will always be grateful for our friendship and the experiences we shared."
UNC coach Roy Williams, in a statement released by the school, said Hunter was "a really good guy, a true coach. He enjoyed spending time with the young men who played for him and they benefited a great deal from that. The suddenness of his loss is one that is very difficult to accept. He was a really good man.”
In his first season as a college head coach, Hunter won a Division III national title at Wittenberg, a private school in Springfield, Ohio, in 1977. He won 305 games in 13 seasons there before taking Ohio U. job in 1989.
With star forward Gary Trent, he led the Bobcats to the Mid-American Conference title in 1994 and the NCAA tournament. Hunter won 204 games in 12 seasons with the Bobcats and he joined Sendek’s staff at N.C. State before the 2001-02 season.
“He had a great basketball mind,” Lee Fowler, N.C. State athletic director from 2000 to ’10, said. “He’s going to be missed in college coaching, I can guarantee you that.”
Sendek’s first five teams at N.C. State did not make the NCAA tournament. A highly-touted recruiting class arrived before Sendek’s sixth season, led by Hodge, and so did Hunter.
“We had a special class,” said former N.C. State forward Levi Watkins, who is now an assistant coach at Ole Miss, “but coach Hunter helped turn everything around.”
Hunter helped Sendek adopt a version of the Princeton offense, which fit the versatile talent on the roster. And, like Sendek, he demanded maximum effort in practice.
“There was no detail too small,” Hodge said. “Every day in practice it was the same. He would say: ‘You can’t cut corners on the path of success in life.’ ”
Hunter and Sendek were a great match and worked well together, Watkins said.
“Coach Sendek gave him a lot of responsibility,” Watkins said. “Coach Hunter had a big voice and was demanding. We all had respect for him.”
Meticulous is how Jackson Simmons described Hunter’s preparation. Simmons, who played at UNC from 2011 to ’15, joined Hunter’s staff this past season. Hunter was also a direct communicator, but had the right touch with his players.
“He’d tell you how it was — he didn’t cut any corners in that way, either - but he was always accessible,” Simmons said. “You could always talk to him.”
Twice Hunter’s WCU teams finished tied for first in North division of the Southern Conference (in 2009 and ’11) and his 2009-10 team won 22 games. The Catamounts went 13-19 this past season.
He will be remembered for more than his record.
“He was a great man,” Simmons said. “He surely is going to be missed.”