It began with a steady comeback in the last two minutes of an early tournament game in Jacksonville, Florida. It ended with an entirely new program and one shining moment for one special school.
When Baylor guard Kenny Chery stepped up to the free throw line for an one-and-one opportunity, with his team up two points over a No. 15 seed, one could imagine the confidence Chery carried in his mind at the time. Chery was a senior, as well as the team’s leading free throw shooter for anyone that attempted more than 10 that season. Plus, there were only 14.1 seconds left in the game and the Panthers missed two free throws in the last minute.
Every reason for Chery to feel at ease- but he missed.
Chery missed his first free throw with 14.1 seconds remaining, T.J. Shipes grabbed the rebound who swung the ball to Kevin Ware before the ball ended up in R.J. Hunter’s hands as 10.1 seconds remained. With the television color commentator pleading for Georgia State to take the ball to the basket in a hurry, Hunter held the ball as he crossed halfcourt before passing it back to Shipes, who set a quick screen after passing it back to Hunter with 5.1 seconds remaining. Hunter decided to waste no more time and pulled up to heave a 30-foot jumper that went through the basket to win the game, become one of the more memorable upsets in recent sports history and to get head coach Ron Hunter falling out of his mobile stool he received after tearing his achilles celebrating a win at the prior game for the Panthers.
Within the following months, the Georgia State basketball program was mentioned on every major network and sports show. The Panthers were no longer only known by fans of the Sun Belt or followers of Kevin Ware and Ryan Harrow, they were known by seemingly everyone.
Rumors began to surface about coach Hunter considering the more traditional college basketball programs after his newfound fame. However, Hunter said he wanted to stay at Georgia State and has since earned a bonus for his tournament win last Spring.
Both the Men and Women’s teams have new practice jerseys, the GSU Sports Arena has a new center hung video board, new welcoming banners are behind each basket and plans to build a new practice space for the basketball program have been announced.
Members of the team, athletic director Charlie Cobb and sports information director Mike Holmes walked the red carpet in sunglasses amongst the finest athletes in the world at the ESPY’s in July. A bobblehead of coach Hunter falling off his stool have been produced at a limited 2,015 units. Every home game for both the Men and Women will be broadcasted live on ESPN3 this season. The team continued to bring in talent from power conference schools such as the transfer from Alabama, Devin Mitchell. The program also landed its highest rated recruit out of high school, Buford guard D’Marcus Simmonds, who is currently ranked the 72nd in ESPN’s 2016 recruiting class rankings.
“Life after the shot” for Georgia State has been phenomenal, but there’s one more message this year’s Panthers are eager to send to the Sun Belt coaches that picked them to finish second in the conference: don’t let the absence of R.J. Hunter bring doubt to the program and school that had its one shining moment.