Greg Jayne column: IBL ownership fills void for driven Hunter

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The genesis, believe it or not, came in the middle of nowhere.

In the gyms of Estacada, Ore.

On the playgrounds of the tiny lumber town near the Mount Hood National Forest.

Deep in the mind of a young Bryan Hunter as he developed a love for basketball.

That’s where the roots of the Vancouver Volcanoes’ newly minted International Basketball League championship began to grow. And if Estacada isn’t really in the middle of nowhere, well, you likely can see nowhere on the horizon.

It was there that Hunter developed into an all-league high school player, and it was there that he developed oversized athletic dreams.

“I thought for sure I could play at a high level in college,” said Hunter, now the 35-year-old coach and majority owner of the Volcanoes. “I thought for sure I could make a Division I team.”

Because of that, he balked when the only scholarship offers came from smaller schools.

“I didn’t have the proper guidance,” he said. “I didn’t know how college basketball worked.”

He ended up walking on at Clackamas Community College. He broke his thumb.

He left the game behind.

“That, I think, created the void I needed to fill. The best I can do now is to help some of these guys pursue their dreams, help them play overseas,” Hunter said.

Which brings us to 2008. That’s when Hunter, who owns Portland-based internet-advertising company Exitexchange, bought the Volcanoes for about $50,000.

“To be honest, it was more of a hobby,” he said. “It was something I was passionate about. I didn’t look at it as a money-making opportunity.”

No, he looked at it as a way to ground the basketball current that still ran through him.

“I thought I was a good judge of character and the pieces you needed to be a winning team,” he said.

So, like a kid with Tinker Toys, Hunter began building. A rebounder here, a point guard there, a couple of 3-point shooters.

Hunter was recruiting players like himself — people who have a basketball jones. They come out of college programs, big and small, looking for an outlet and an avenue to more lucrative overseas leagues.

That first year, Hunter served as an assistant coach. He was head coach for part of the season in 2009, then took over full-time in 2010.

“I can relate being a head coach to running a company and managing employees,” he said. “A big portion of what you’re doing is understanding what a person needs to be successful and what motivates them.”

The Volcanoes, Hunter’s own personal Frankenstein’s monster, reached the IBL semifinals three straight years before breaking through last week. They defeated Edmonton 124-116 Sunday at Clark College, winning their first title.

“It was just kind of, ‘finally.’ We finally made it here,” Hunter said. “It was a lot of emotion that all the hard work paid off.

“I think I’ve hit the peak of that mountain. I’ve made that climb. The question is, where do I go from here?”

Well, first, he’s buying the IBL, purchasing the league from founder Mikal Duilio. Then, he’s getting married, to Anne Waters on Aug. 13.

It’s all part of a journey that has led Bryan Hunter far from Estacada, Ore., even if he can’t escape those childhood dreams.

“I still feel young,” he said. “I still go out and practice with these guys. While I admit they’re better than me, I think I keep up.”

Greg Jayne is Sports editor of The Columbian. He can be reached at 360-735-4531, or by e-mail at greg.jayne@columbian.com. To “like” his Facebook page, search for “Greg Jayne - The Columbian”