Nebraska lures Kenya Hunter from Georgetown, reinforcing its newfound commitment to basketball

Jeff Eisenberg

Since accepting an offer on Monday to join Nebraska coach Tim Miles' staff, longtime Georgetown assistant Kenya Hunter has heard the same question over and over again.

Why would the longest-tenured assistant at a tradition-rich program leave for a school that has never won an NCAA tournament game?

Hunter admits going from Georgetown to Nebraska is unusual, but he sees it as a risk he has to take to help advance his career. If Hunter can help reverse the fortunes of the long-struggling Huskers program, he believes it will make him more marketable as a head coaching candidate in a few years.

"I'm really excited about the chance to go to a new program and help it rebuild," Hunter said Tuesday. "I'd been at Georgetown for six years going on seven. I thought it would be a good time to make a change and learn a different way. Obviously Nebraska is known for football, but with Coach Miles coming in last year and winning games, the excitement for basketball is growing. I wanted to be part of that."

Nebraska's abysmal history suggests it will be a challenge for Hunter to help turn the football-centric school into a basketball power, but the school's newfound commitment to hoops gives the Huskers more reason for optimism than ever before.

Between the opening of a $20 million practice facility in 2011 and the construction of a state-of-the-art $179 million arena set to open this year, Nebraska boasts hoops facilities rivaling any in the nation. The decision to hire Miles last spring was also shrewd since the charismatic second-year coach has a track record of revitalizing tradition-bereft Colorado State and North Dakota State.

That Miles was able to offer the money necessary to lure a coach away from a program of Georgetown's caliber is another sign Nebraska is committed to ascending in the rugged Big Ten. Every coach on Miles' staff now reportedly makes at least $200,000 per year, with Hunter leading the way at $230,000.

Georgetown coach John Thompson III did not want to lose Hunter after fellow assistant Mike Brennan had already left earlier this spring to become the head coach at American University. Thompson hired Northwestern assistant Tavares Hardy to replace Brennan and tabbed Kevin Sutton to replace Hunter, with the caveat that Sutton would become director of basketball operations if Hunter decided to stay.

"People thought I got forced out or whatever, but that's not true," Hunter said. "Coach Thompson knew when I went on my visit to Nebraska last week that there was probably a great chance of me leaving, so it was a case of him being proactive and making sure he was covered if I was to leave. I think it's win-win. My experience as a coach and recruiter can help Nebraska and Georgetown is getting two guys who will continue the success they've had."

Miles and Hunter didn't know each other prior to this courtship, but the Nebraska coach targeted the Georgetown assistant at the recommendation of a mutual friend. Hunter's track record of recruiting and player development suggested to Miles he'll be an asset to the Nebraska staff.

At Georgetown, Hunter helped recruit or develop a handful of future NBA prospects including soon-to-be lottery pick Otto Porter and former centers Roy Hibbert and Greg Monroe. Hunter expects to use his familiarity with recruiting in Washington D.C. and other East Coast hotbeds to bring players to Nebraska.

"I just want to bring in good players that can help Nebraska, whether it's junior college players or high school players," Hunter said. "I'm all about bringing in the best player I can to help Nebraska."

One of the ironies of Hunter's hiring is the first opponent on Nebraska's schedule next season. The Huskers will christen their new arena in front of a sold-out crowd against Florida Gulf Coast, the upstart that knocked Hunter and the second-seeded Hoyas out of the NCAA tournament last March.

"Coach Miles gave me a little jab because he told me Florida Gulf Coast was my first scout," Hunter said with a chuckle. "I told him, 'I don't know if you want me to do that one,' but hopefully I can give a little bit of input. They return four guys from their 'Dunk City' team we created at Georgetown last year. Hopefully I can get the guys at Nebraska pumped up for that one."

It's flattering for Hunter to hear some suggest his hiring is another sign Nebraska basketball is on the rise, but the longtime assistant coach believes he still has a lot to prove. His goal is for nobody to be able to question why he'd leave Georgetown for Nebraska by the end of the Huskers' rebuilding process in a couple years.

"That's my main goal and focus is to come in here and help make Nebraska into a winner," Hunter said. "I feel pretty good about the future and the guys we have there. If we add one or two more pieces to the puzzle, I think we can be successful."