BLOOMINGTON — New Indiana men’s basketball co-associate coach Kenya Hunter has built a reputation as a strong national recruiter in his 18-year Division I career.
“Don’t get it twisted,” Hunter said. “I’m here to recruit. But I think I can add value on the basketball part of it as well.”
To call Hunter just a recruiter would be selling him short, according to former Nebraska men’s basketball coach Tim Miles. Hunter worked under Miles at Nebraska from 2013-18, a tenure in which he excelled in a variety of roles.
“Kenya is a total package guy,” said Miles, now a college basketball analyst for the Big Ten Network. “He would be a guy to me, if he’s on my staff, that I would heavily promote as being a head coach in some time in his near future.”
Miles referred to Hunter as a “dynamic recruiter” during his time at Nebraska for his ability to both evaluate and connect with players. But Miles said Hunter was tasked with several other duties while at Nebraska, including player development and scouting Big Ten opponents.
“He is great on the floor working guys out,” Miles said. “He develops guys, and it doesn’t matter — I’ve had him work with guards and bigs equally. He really does a great job just figuring out how to make a kid better, how to identify strengths and go-to moves, go-to plays and minimize weaknesses …
“Certainly, he knows his job at Indiana is to be a high-level recruiter. But high-level recruiting is only half the deal. If you don’t develop those guys once you get them, you lose them and Kenya knows that, and Kenya does a great job making them feel at home, getting them better so they know they feel like they’re getting better, and that essentially makes the team better.”
Miles mentioned one more positive Hunter trait, loyalty — one he believes will carry over into his new job at IU. Hunter has known IU head coach Archie Miller and his family since his days playing point guard at Duquesne in the late 1990s. Hunter actually helped coach Miller in summer AAU games outside of Pittsburgh when Miller was still playing in high school.
“Any time I thought things were stressful or uneasy, I always knew Kenya Hunter had my back as a head coach,” Miles said. “I think the players probably felt the exact same way, and any coach you have in your program, where everybody feels that way, it’s going to the successful.”
Hunter was both a standout point guard and defensive back at Wakefield High in Arlington, Virginia, and was offered football scholarships to a handful of ACC schools.
“He was a big-time athlete,” Miles said. “He’s an old man now, but he did have a chance.”
But Hunter’s basketball path has taken him from Duquesne to North Carolina State to Xavier to Georgetown to Nebraska and to Connecticut before landing at IU this fall. During that time period, Hunter built extensive recruiting ties in both the Northeast and Midwest.
“Hopefully, I can come in and be a help to this program and moving it in a direction where every year they are competing for championships,” Hunter said.
Hunter credited Miles with giving him the opportunity to scout and get a feel for the Big Ten during his stint at Nebraska.
“It’s just going to help with the continuity coming here with this staff as well, and so, it’s not my first rodeo coming into this league,” Hunter said. “It’s a higher respect of coaches in this league just to game plan. I know that you’ve got to be really locked in each scout, and so I know how important that is. Me having experience in this league for five years is definitely going to help.”
Hunter said for now, he’s working with both guards and forwards on the floor during IU individual basketball workouts. Position groups for assistants haven’t been assigned yet, Hunter said.
Recruiting-wise, Hunter said he’s looking forward to establishing new ties within Indiana. He said he last recruited the state heavily during his stint at Xavier from 2004-07, mentioning Stanley Burrell (Ben Davis) and Justin Gage (Pike) as players he helped recruit during that time.
“Most of those coaches have gone on to being college coaches, so it’s new relationships that I will have to build here in the state,” Hunter said. “But I’m looking forward to doing that, and I’m just, again, I think they have a really good hold on what’s going on in the state of Indiana, the best kids that are coming in the younger class. So, hopefully, I can get a feel for it but also bring some of these guys from different areas to Indiana.”