The 2014-15 season for Georgia State men’s basketball came to a close on Saturday night in Jacksonville, Florida as the Panthers were eliminated in the NCAA tournament by Xavier by a final of 75-67.
But even by losing, everyone associated with Georgia State University came out a winner — from basketball aficionados, to faculty, to students, to alumni. The week where Georgia State competed in the NCAA tournament was a banner week to have Panther Pride.
As we as students know, there have been times where the university has not always shown its good side (see: the WRAS deal that remains controversial). Even when it comes to athletics and the struggles of the football team, it has made students and alumni less-than-enthusiastic when it comes to Georgia State athletics.
Last week was arguably the university’s finest hour. For a whole week, Georgia State was in the national spotlight.
Last week, Georgia State was at the epicenter of the sports universe. It began the week prior to the opening week of the NCAA tournament when the Panthers avenged last season’s heartbreaking Sun Belt 2013-14 tournament loss to Louisiana-Lafayette with a 38-36 victory, winning the conference tournament and having an opportunity to experience March Madness.
And if the tournament win in New Orleans could not have been sweet enough, the Panthers defeated Georgia Southern, that school down south, to advance into the NCAAs. Side note — Georgia Southern did not even make the NIT, the secondary tournament that finished on the outside looking in for the NCAAs.
That win skyrocketed Georgia State to the national headlines. All of a sudden, every national sports outlet from CBS Sports to ESPN wanted to talk to our Panthers. For a week, we were the Georgia school that was on everyone’s lips. Not UGA or Georgia Tech, but Georgia State.
And when it comes to ambassadors for the university, could we have been better represented than we were by Head Coach Ron Hunter, his son R.J. Hunter, Kevin Ware, Ryan Harrow, and the rest of the basketball team?
The two Hunters in particular not only became the faces of Georgia State University, but also provided something that is rare in major sports — a father having the opportunity to coach his son.
As part of the Panther Family, we’ve known the backstory behind Ron and R.J. Hunter before they vaulted on the national stage as they did last week. Now, the story of the two Hunters is one that is being talked about from Jacksonville to Los Angeles.
That shot that R.J. Hunter made to beat the Baylor Bears that had his dad falling out of his chair he used while coaching his team that game went viral on social media — and made said chair just as much of a sensation as the team became.
Plus, everyone around the country had a chance to become reacquainted with Ware. While some still associate his name with his horrific leg injury he sustained while with Louisville, he got the opportunity to reinvent himself as a someone who can play basketball.
In fact, the CBS announcers during Georgia State’s game with Baylor mentioned that ourselves as students also played a part in making Ware’s comeback story become a reality.
Coming back to his hometown and not being under the consistent media spotlight that was still a byproduct of his injury was something he would have never been able to have if still in Louisville. Here at Georgia State, Ware has had an opportunity to reinvent himself into the player he can be.
Our university, despite its status as a mid-major in a city where UGA and Georgia Tech are at the college sports totem pole, had a basketball team that not only was hailed as Atlanta’s team, but America’s team.
The Georgia State Panthers became America’s Panthers. Does it get more exciting for a university’s community than that?!
After seeing the images of the team and Hunter on the national stage, this will only improve Georgia State’s ability to land talented recruits that can build upon what this year’s team did.
Athletic Director Charlie Cobb said that one of his goals at the helm of Georgia State athletics was going to be to increase school spirit on campus. Cobb could not have asked for anything better in his goal to do just that than what the 2014-15 Panthers did.
To students, fans, alumni, and faculty: these are the kinds of stories that you remember for the rest of your life. Sports may be a trivial pursuit in the grand scheme of things, but sports also has an effect that not many other forms of pop culture have: The ability to bring people together.
Atlanta as a metropolitan area can seem so divided given that its suburbs are so spread out. If it is one thing that everyone in the city agreed upon, it was the fact that we were behind this team.
One of the biggest things to remember is that it was somewhat expected to happen. The Panthers were picked as preseason favorites to win the Sun Belt, but there was always that possibility that things would not go as planned.
Not only did things go as they were expected to go for the basketball team, they could not have gone any better in terms of propelling Georgia State into the national headlines.
The players and coaches are not the only ones who should be proud. Students, faculty, alumni, fans should all share in what Georgia State men’s basketball accomplished this year.
Everyone in the Georgia State community played a part (no matter how small) in making history.
Shoutouts to those who went to the game to support the Panthers:
— GSUPantherPride (@GSUPantherPride) March 21, 2015
— PantherTalk.com (@gsupanthertalk) March 21, 2015
— #ThanksPantherFamily (@GSUPanthers) March 21, 2015
Let's go GEORGIA STATE!!! pic.twitter.com/mkenr7yN7J
— Travis L. Williams (@CoachTWill24) March 22, 2015
— Ben Swain (@TheBenSwain) March 22, 2015