The song by Drake Started From The Bottom (now we here), fits Phoenix Suns interim head coach Lindsey Hunter.
On March 3, 2010, Hunter was waived by the Chicago Bulls, ending his 17-year NBA career as a player. Two days later he was hired as a player development assistant where he focused on the development of younger players such as league-MVP Derrick Rose.
On August 28, 2012 he was hired by the Suns as the player development coordinator. Less than five months later, with a record of 13-28 to start the season, the Suns fired Alvin Gentry and Hunter was named interim head coach on January 20.
In less than three years, Hunter went from NBA player to NBA head coach.
“I could have never dreamed of advancing to where I am this quickly,” Hunter said with a chuckle when asked did he think he would be a head coach in this short amount of time. “Of course this is my ultimate goal during the time I was working and learning to prepare myself. Sometimes things happen when you least expect it, but you always have to be working and preparing for what you want to do.”
A year ago, Hunter signed on to be a scout for the Suns and prior to becoming player development coordinator, he interviewed for the Orlando Magic head coaching vacancy and was one of three finalists. The interview experience really helped him to interview for the head position with the Suns.
“It helped me tremendously,” said Hunter. “I think it helped me learn all the ins and outs of what is expected. To be a finalist in that situation was an honor and I think it catapulted me to being where I am now.”
Hunter continues to learn. His record as the Suns coach is 10-18 to this point. The season has had its ups and downs including winning the very first game with him as head coach, two four-game losing streaks, and a three-game winning streak.
Hunter was not pleased after a 113-88 home loss to a Garnett and Rondo-less Boston Celtics on February 22 and let his team know about it. Two days later the Suns played better but still lost to San Antonio 97-87. The Suns then proceeded to win three-straight including avenging the loss to San Antonio with a 105-101 road victory on February 27.
“I know how we’re preparing, we’re young, but some of those things we just couldn’t accept and as the head coach I can’t accept,” he said. “A team will not play harder than we play or outcompete us.”
Being a head coach is something Hunter, 42, has always dreamed about. He has spent almost half of his life in the NBA, 17 as a player where he won two championships; in 2002 with the Lakers and most notably in 2004 coming back and winning one with the Pistons. During his playing days he was one of the top on ball defenders. He also had the ability to score averaging a career high 14.2 points per game during the 1996-97 season, and averaging in double figures for the Pistons for four-straight seasons.
But his passion to be the best really goes back to his playing days at Jackson State. He was a prolific scorer in the SWAC averaging 24.1 points per game in three seasons for the Tigers, after transferring from Alcorn State. He was drafted in the first round of the 1993 NBA Draft, 11th overall by the Pistons. Hunter is one of JSU’s all-time great athletes, ranking among the likes of Walter Payton and Jackie Slater.
“To be mentioned with those guys, I really looked up to those guys when I was a kid,” he said. “For me to even be in that conversation is a blessing.”
As for the future and being the permanent head coach of the Suns?
“I’ll continue to work until I’m in position to really be considered a fulltime coach.”
Note: Hunter is one of six former HBCU players to be head coach in the NBA joining Al Attles (North Carolina A&T), Earl Lloyd (West Virginia State), Willis Reed (Grambling), Bob Hopkins (Grambling), and Avery Johnson (Southern). Attles remains the only former HBCU player to win an NBA championship as head coach.