Cullowhee, N.C. - Former Western Carolina head men's basketball coach Larry Hunter passed away peacefully this morning around 11 a.m. at WakeMed Cary Hospital. Hunter, 68, had been in the hospital after suffering a massive stroke.
Hunter loved basketball, spending more than five decades involved in playing and coaching the game at the intercollegiate level. His head coaching career spanned three different universities with each stop featuring 12-plus years of service. All told, Hunter's 47-year collegiate coaching career was spent between five different institutions and included stops as an assistant or associate head coach at Marietta College (1971-73) and North Carolina State (2001-05), with head coaching positions held at Wittenberg (1976-89), his alma mater Ohio University (1989-2001), and finally at Western Carolina (2005-18).
Hunter was a two-time Ohio Athletic Conference (OAC) Coach of the Year, the 1994 Mid-American Conference (MAC) Coach of the Year, and garnered NABC Division III National Coach of the Year honors in 1977. In August of 2016, Hunter was inducted into the Ohio Basketball Hall of Fame.
Hunter's head coaching career began with a bang in 1976-77 as he guided the Wittenberg Tigers to an OAC regular season title on the way to claiming a NCAA Division III National Championship. He led the Tigers to 11, 20-plus win seasons, five OAC regular season championships, and seven OAC tournament titles, as well as a NCAA Division III national runner-up finish in 1982-83 and a pair of national third-place finishes in 1979-80 and 1986-87.
All told, four of Wittenberg's top 10 individual scorers played for Hunter, including the program's all-time leader, Steve Iannarino (1,973 points).
After 13 seasons at Wittenberg, Hunter got the call back to his alma mater of Ohio University in Athens, Ohio in 1989. He guided the Bobcats to 10 winning seasons including 20-or-more victories three times in his 12 seasons on the bench. While at Ohio, Hunter coached two MAC Players of the Year in Dave Jamerson (1989-90) -- who was a first round NBA draft pick -- and three-time All-MAC recipient, Gary Trent. He also recruited and coached MAC Freshman of the Year, Rush Floyd, in 1990-91 and Trent in 1992-93.
After four seasons on the bench as an associate head coach at North Carolina State in Raleigh from 2001 to 2005, Hunter again found himself at the head of the bench in 2005 as he took over a Catamount men's basketball program. Over his 13 seasons in Cullowhee, Hunter tallied 193 victories, the second-most wins in the second-longest tenure in program history. He guided WCU to its first 20-win season as a NCAA Division I program with a 22-12 mark in 2009-10; led the Catamounts to a pair of SoCon North Division titles (2008-09 and 2010-11); made two appearances in the SoCon Basketball Championship game (2011-12, 2013-14); and took the Catamounts to a pair of postseason berths with the 2010 CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament and the 2016 College Basketball Invitational (CBI).
He recruited and mentored two Southern Conference Freshman of the Year recipients -- Harouna Mutombo in 2008-09 and Trey Sumlerin 2010-11; two SoCon Defensive Players of the Year -- Brigham Waginger in 2009-10 and Richie Gordon in 2010-11; and saw a combined 11 different players collect All-SoCon accolades. Also, former Catamount sharp-shooter Jake Robinson broke the school's career 3-pointers made record within Hunter's offensive scheme.
Hunter achieved a milestone victory during the 2017-18 season, his 13th in Cullowhee at the helm of the Western Carolina men's basketball program. He joined an elite group of 40 men's basketball coaches to eclipse the 700-career victory mark, doing so in a convincing 88-71 home win over the Samford Bulldogs. He finished the year with 702 career wins.
Hunter was a fierce competitor that spent countless hours in the office, on the team bus, and even at home dissecting game film and creating game plans. But above it all, he loved teaching, educating, and reveled in the successes of his student-athletes not just on the court, but in life. His eyes would light up when talking about what his former players were doing with their lives after basketball -- or when players would visit with their families, wives and children -- it was Hunter's extended family, bound through a common tie of basketball.
He is survived by his wife, Mary.
CatamountSports.com will be updated with funeral service information once it is made available.