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Beyond the Scoreboard: Former WCU coach Larry Hunter dies

Larry Hunter
Larry Hunter won 702 games as a college basketball coach, including 193 for Western Carolina. (Photo courtesy of WCU)

A few years ago I asked Larry Hunter about a particular play in a basketball game I had covered as a sportswriter.

One of his Western Carolina basketball players had the ball on the wing, trying to make an entry pass into the low post.

But a defender guarding another Catamount in the corner kept cheating over for a double-team in the low post.

The wing player very smartly motioned for his teammate in the corner to leave, and that corner guy ran the baseline to the other corner, taking his man-to-man defender with him.

That opened up the low post, the pass was made and an easy basket scored.

Larry laughed when I mentioned that play – he had just taken a video clip of that exact play and shown it to a group of Cats’ fans at a luncheon.

He recalled wistfully back to a time when the game was played more with the head than the body, when a play like that was routine instead of being so rare that he felt the need to show the clip to explain how the game was supposed to be played.

Larry was old school and proud of it. He was demanding of his players and expected results. And he wasn’t shy about letting them know when they came up short, though there was a layer of softness around his tough edges in recent years.

There will be no more laughs and shared joys about fundamental basketball with Larry; he died Friday morning at age 68 at WakeMed Cary Hospital just a short time after suffering a massive stroke that left him on life support.

He is survived by his wife Mary and hundreds of former players who respected his desire to make them winners.

And win he did, 702 victories over an illustrious career.

He never found the consistent success in Cullowhee that he did in previous stops at two Ohio schools, Wittenberg and Ohio University.

He won a Division III national title, finished runner-up once and in third on two occasions.

His 193 wins at WCU are second all-time and he is the only Catamount coach to win 20 games as a Division I program.

He got the hook after the 2017-18 season after a couple of disappointing seasons and records, but he told me soon afterward he still wanted to coach.

That, of course, never worked out.

Larry leaves a legacy, one of 40 coaches in the history of college basketball to reach 700 wins.

And he reached a lot of people, players, coaches and sportswriters, with his love for the game, particularly when it was played the right way, the way he wanted, the way he taught, the way he expected.

And to the end, capping a 47-year career teaching the game, he was a coach.

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This is the opinion of Keith Jarrett. Comment at keithjarrettasheville@gmail.com

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