In an already impressive fall season for sports at Georgia State, more achievement is in store as the men’s and women’s basketball teams jump into action. But how can Georgia State’s basketball programs improve upon a fall where a cross country athlete won two of the five regular season meets she competed in, the football team is off to their best start in history and the men’s soccer team made the conference tournament championship?
Head coaches Ron Hunter and Sharon Baldwin debunked the answer this offseason– now Panther Nation waits to see them execute.
Hunter turned Georgia State into a perennial top flight team in the Sun Belt Conference when he came to Atlanta in 2011. He might make the program the Sun Belt’s perennial NCAA qualifier next March. Hunter national news when he fell from his chair during the Panthers’ 2015 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament upset win over Baylor. More headlines are in the making this season because Hunter has a team that has desire, talent and works together as well as any he’s coached.
Most of the attention will stem from a sophomore stud at guard– D’Marcus Simonds.
Simonds said he knew he was one of the best players on the court less than seven games into his freshman season. It takes a deep understanding of the game to make a statement like that. Simonds’ nature is a reason he feels that way. He plays with a killer instinct, bravado and enjoys attention. The bright lights and big names will not scare him come tournament season.
Hunter will navigate Georgia State to familiar heights using the leadership from Simonds and talent from players who have worked their tails off this past summer. Malik Benlevi and Jeff Thomas have become the exact type of player Hunter loves– an athlete who is versatile and pays attention to detail on defense. When the pieces are there for Hunter, he guides Georgia State to success.
Baldwin’s roster didn’t return a rising senior for the upcoming year, but gained tons of experience. The highly touted Janessa Murphy, Victoria Middlebrooks, Juliet James, Francesca Milani and Shaliaya Fluker all transferred to Georgia State earlier this year.
Despite the rankings that the big names bring to Georgia State, the return of Madison Newby is the piece that will bring the Panthers their best season yet under Baldwin. Newby, the 2015-2016 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year missed the entire Sun Belt slate last season with a lower body injury.
The five assists Newby averaged per Sun Belt game her freshman year could be topped this season with her new teammates. It will be fascinating to watch Baldwin configure different lineups to maximize the potential on the court.
In addition to the athletes that didn’t play Sun Belt action last season, Jada Lewis, reigning Sun Belt Freshman of the Year is still one of the conference’s best scorers. The combination of Lewis and Newby in the backcourt will make for a memorable duo and the top in the conference. Often times two outstanding players clash when they have to work together. However, Baldwin recruited them for a reason and eventually knew the time would come.
The women’s basketball team will take Georgia State to new heights. A deep run into the Sun Belt Conference tournament is in the works, and a title would not be surprising.