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IUPUI coach Hunter, players to travel to Nigeria to donate shoes

INDIANAPOLIS -- IUPUI coach Ron Hunter and his players are going to Nigeria in July to deliver some of the nearly 200,000 pairs of shoes that were donated after he went barefoot during a basketball game to help poor children.

Samaritan's Feet, a charitable organization based in Charlotte, N.C., convinced Hunter to go barefoot for a Jan. 24 game against Oakland, and Hunter set a pregame goal of collecting 40,000 pairs of shoes in honor of the 40th anniversary of the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

By tip-off, he'd already raised 110,000 pairs, counting those that had been pledged on the Samaritan's Feet Web site.

"Ron used the influence he has as a basketball coach and really helped us put a face to the cause," said Emmanuel "Manny" Ohonme, a native of Nigeria who founded the charity four years ago.

The mission of the Christian-based charity is to send 10 million shoes in 10 years to children living in poverty. This year's goal is 1 million pairs.

Besides about 20 from IUPUI, the group heading to Nigeria will also include about 30 people from Samaritan's Feet. They will leave the U.S. on July 25 and fly into Abuja, the capital, before busing to Jos.

Before returning on Aug. 8, they will visit orphanages, schools and hospitals, and the IUPUI contingent will hold basketball clinics.

"We are really going to be exposing the athletes to the culture in that area of the world," Ohonme said. "It's not just about going there for humanitarian purposes and ministry. It's so they can also learn and see a world that's bigger than theirs."

Ohonme hopes the players understand that responsibility comes with their status as Division I basketball players.

"As we've been given greater platforms in life, we need to use those to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate than ourselves," he said.

Many of the shoes already have been delivered. Some have gone to Liberia and the Darfur region of Sudan. Others have been delivered to kids in Washington, D.C. and Virginia.

Samaritan's Feet plans to send shoes to Uganda and Mozambique in Africa, and Guyana and Peru in South America later this year.

"I'm more excited about my kids doing this than if they were going to the NCAA tournament," Hunter said. "This will have a direct effect on the rest of their lives. They will always remember this."

The cause got a lift from the NBA on TNT when studio hosts Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Ernie Johnson went barefoot for their May 11 telecast.

Hunter wants coaches across the country, regardless of sport, to go barefoot on a yet-to-be-named Saturday in 2009.

"If it's just about wins and losses, we've lost what coaching is all about," he said.