Georgia State head basketball coaches Gene Hill and Rob Lanier are hungry for more

In his first season as head coach, Gene Hill led Georgia State to a 17-13 record, its best since the 2003-2004 season. Photo submitted by Georgia State Athletics

Last basketball season, Georgia State’s men and women made significant strides. The men won the conference title and punched a ticket into the NCAA tournament. While the team was crushed by the University of Houston Cougars and soon after lost one of the best coaches to grace the GSU Sports Arena, Ron Hunter, this season will usher in a new age.

On the women’s side, the team won nine games more than in 2017-18. This season, head coach Gene Hill is expecting to continue that growth and success. 

Rob Lanier is the newest head coach for the men’s team. He previously served as the associate head coach for the University of Tennessee’s men’s basketball team for four seasons. Lanier wanted to be a head coach again but it was not until a conversation with the Director of Athletics Charlie Cobb and Georgia State University President Mark Becker that Lanier was sold on Georgia State.

“Everything changed very quickly,” Lanier said. “The vision they had for the school. The commitment they were willing to make for athletics in general and the scope of what this university means to this city … added up to something that seemed like an opportunity I couldn’t walk away from.” 

Last season was head coach Gene Hill’s first season with the women’s basketball program. He flipped the team around in one season. The Panthers only have five returning players and plenty of freshman coming in, but Hill does not see that affecting their quality on the court. 

“If we can continue along the process of what we started last year and building the foundation, the future is bright,” Hill said. “We have to remember to take it every day.” 

Lanier and his coaching staff brought in new talent, including Jojo Toppin from the University of Georgia and Eliel Newsome from Cincinnati. 

“There is a nice blend of perimeter contribution, shooting, ball handling, playmaking and size,” Lanier said. “Guys will give us defense, rebounds and physicality.”

The women will play an unfamiliar opponent this season, the University of Maryland Terrapins, on Dec. 18. For Coach Hill, Maryland is very familiar. 

“I had the opportunity to play them a ton back in my days when they were in the [Atlantic Coastal Conference,” Hill said. “[In]my last year at NC State, we played them in the game to go to the sweet 16. So, I know how talented they are. Now, it’s a matter of getting our players to understand how talented they are.”

The men will have road tests this season against Duke and Georgetown. Coach Lanier is not looking far ahead, but instead taking it one day at a time. 

”Unfortunately, as a coach, I try not to think that far ahead,” Lanier said. “I don’t think I’ll spend that much time thinking about that. I tell this to the team after practice, ‘The better we prepare each day, the more confident I feel about each challenge that comes along.’”

The women are trying to establish a winning culture. Coach Hill knows his coaching staff will help him take this program to the next level.

“We are fortunate that the ministration gave us resources to be able to hire a great group of coaches,” Hill said. “Then you add Coach Baker, who is a Georgia native and played at UGA. We try not to hold that against her. She played in the WNBA and coached in the ACC. She’s someone young ladies can reach out to.” 

For the men, Coach Lanier can already tell a winning culture has been established, and they are expected to win. On top of the departure of key starters D’Marcus Simonds, Malik Benlevi, Jeff Thomas and Devin Mitchell, Lanier brought in a completely new coaching staff, but is confident they will help elevate the team to new levels this season. 

“All of the staff, including the coaches, bring so much to the table,” Lanier said. Cliff Warren, Chris Kreider, Jarvis Hayes and Kyle Condon, who worked with Lanier at Tennessee, complete the new-look bench.

Last season, the women lost in the quarterfinals in the Sun Belt Tournament, courtesy of a buzzer-beater. That moment was used as motivation in the off-season. 

“I tell players [if you have a] moment you don’t want to remember, put that away somewhere,” Hill said. “When you don’t want to box out or do one more rep, take that moment out and let it be your motivator.” 

It has been 16 years since the women’s basketball team has been to the NCAA Tournament. Coach Hill is eyeing a return to the Big Dance.

“It’s always a goal,” he said. “That’s what we are trying to build this program to be about. Will it happen this year? I do not know, but that is what we are chasing.” 

As for Lanier, matching last season’s success must be handled on a day-to-day basis.

“I can’t afford to think [far ahead],” Lanier said. “Do I know what it takes? Yes. Are we trying to install in the players to do what it takes? Yes. Those are the goals and we do talk to the players about having high aspirations.” 

Coach Lanier and Hill both share the same vision for student support this season.

“I hope [students] see a team that represents Georgia State and our city,” Hill said. “We like to score and can put any five players out there.”