Homer Drew couldn’t have been prouder, yet more devastated.
If anyone could relate to the sheer ecstasy Georgia State head coach Ron Hunter felt on the sidelines after upsetting Baylor on Thursday afternoon, it was the former Valparaiso head coach, a close friend and coaching rival in the Summit League who experienced his day in the March Madness sunshine with his younger son, star player Bryce Drew, back in a 1998 shock first-round win en route to a Sweet 16 appearance.
If anyone could also relate to the abject misery the NCAA Tournament dealt Baylor in the blink of an eye, it was Homer Drew, whose elder son, Baylor head coach Scott Drew, saw his team’s season unravel in just over two minutes after building a near insurmountable lead.
The basketball patriarch was seated behind his son’s bench as they both saw Georgia State end the Round of 64 clash on an 13-0 run, capped off by R.J. Hunter’s 30-foot three-pointer to unceremoniously end the season for the Bears.
Homer, who also knows the feeling of embracing his son after a “One Shining Moment” moment, could only come up with one word to describe the game back in the tunnel by the media workroom.
“Shock. Just shock.”
Before the coach comes the father, who was on his way to the Baylor dressing room to get ready to meet Scott after he wrapped up his postgame press conference and addressed the team in the locker room. All the while, he still was trying to figure out what had just happened.
“We had a 10-point lead,” said Homer Drew, subtly expressing his allegiances. “It was remarkable how Georgia State didn’t give up, but I feel for Baylor. I really do.”
“But that’s the fun of March Madness,” Homer Drew added.
The fun of March Madness and doing it as a family is something Homer knows all too well, which made the coach in him exceptionally satisfied as the Hunter family eerily recreated Homer and Bryce’s magic moment from 17 years ago in Oklahoma City.
“Ron is a first class guy, and he deserves this moment,” said Homer, who immediately shook his hand and congratulated him after Georgia State finished with their postgame press conference responsibilities.
In comparing Georgia State’s win to his team’s NCAA Tournament upset over Mississippi in 1998, Homer couldn’t help but mention how similar the end of each game was, especially after Baylor’s Kenny Chery, an 83 perfect free-throw shooter, missed the front end of the 1-and-1 while Baylor was up two with 14 seconds left.
“We (Valparaiso) also were down two and they (Ole Miss) were at the free throw line,” said Homer Drew. “There wasn’t as much time for us as with Georgia State, but it’s something to see history repeat itself.”
After the first missed free throw by Ole Miss’s Ansu Sesay back in that 1998 game, Valparaiso called its last timeout, and in that huddle was when he called the now famous “Pacer” inbounds play, setting up Bryce to be the hero and Scott – who was then an assistant coach for Valparaiso – to share in the eventual jubilation.
Outside of being R.J.’s father, the relationship Ron Hunter has had with the Drew family might have been the most integral part of R.J. coming to Georgia State to play for his father collegiately.
“I did a lot of research and we talked to a lot of people that had a father son relationship, and Homer [Drew] called me and said that Bryce would be a great person for R.J. to talk with,” said Ron Hunter about R.J.’s recruitment out of high school in Indiana. “And so R.J. went to talk to Bryce, and Bryce gave him the good and the bad with doing that, and really, two days after that conversation is when R.J. committed to us.”
More than three years later, the Hunters would have their March Madness dream realized in grandstand fashion, just like the Drews. And more than three years later, Ron Hunter could share with the public what he had held back for so long, being much more of the demanding, no-nonsense coach to R.J. than the gregarious, loquacious man who also happens to be his father.
“I’m going to be dad right now,” said Ron Hunter in his opening statement to the press after the win. “Proud as hell of this guy. This is my son. I’m proud of him, so I wanted to say that. I haven’t been able to do that for three years, so I wanted to say I’m proud of him.”
While the Hunters continued to embrace long after the game was over, Homer and Scott Drew emerged from the Baylor locker room, an arm each wrapped around the other’s shoulder on the way to the team bus. This wasn’t the embrace Scott (and Bryce) had with his father 17 years ago in a moment of unfettered joy. But yet, it was just as memorable, encapsulating the life of Homer Drew, the coach and, even more so, encapsulating the life of Homer Drew, the dad, raising his children through their ups and downs.
[Cover photo (R.J. and Ron Hunter) courtesy of Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images]