Justin Roberts’ continues to get better as a player and a leader

Justin Roberts reflects on his road to Georgia State and how it has impacted his game. Photo Submitted by GSU Athletics

Sitting at 8-4, the Panthers men’s basketball team is in the midst of another competitive season as they continue to battle for another Sun Belt Conference championship. At the center of it all is Panther point guard Justin Roberts, who is having a breakout campaign. 

Roberts’ 2019 season was solid under Rob Lanier’s first season as head coach at Georgia State. He earned all-conference honors while averaging 13.7 points and nearly five assists a game. 

However, Roberts elevated his game in 2020, leading the Panthers to a four-overtime thrilling win over in-state rival Georgia Tech. Roberts is currently averaging 14.4 points, four rebounds and 3.5 assists as he tries to lead the Panthers back to the NCAA Tournament. 

Even with the season young and unpredictable, Roberts still recognizes his game’s improvement and the team’s progress as a whole. For Roberts, one of the most significant differences from the 2019 season is that the program’s expectations are high.

“Being leaders even when we don’t realize it, has become a big adjustment to the older guys and returners, but I think we are handling it very well,” Roberts said. 

As a leader, Roberts understands that the program has expectations of winning the conference, and he takes that in stride. With head coach Rob Lanier in his second season with the Panthers, the team looks to compete in every game, including the conference tournament. 

“The expectations have changed for the returners, now that we know what [Coach Lanier] expects out of us on and off the court – it’s hard to have an excuse for anything,” Roberts said. 

With the expectation comes the pressure to perform, especially in conference play. The Panthers have struggled in Sun Belt play and currently rank eighth overall but have played only five conference games due to recent COVID-19 stoppages.

Before the stoppage of play, Appalachian State swept the Panthers, causing the Panthers to drop from the conference’s top spot. Roberts knows the Panthers will have to play with urgency when they resume play. For the Panthers to get a top seed, they’ll need to get on a hot streak and fast. 

Even with the stops to the season, Roberts is confident in the whole team’s ability to ride out the games’ rough stretch. The Panthers are one of the few teams to remain undefeated at home this season and are 5-0 at the GSU Sports Arena. 

Roberts is still confident that the team will get back to their winning ways. He knows that he can’t afford to doubt during tough stretches and compliments his teammates throughout an odd season. 

“It also made me realize that [my teammates] are tougher than I thought mentally, and they could be held at a higher standard,” Roberts said. “For me, it was just a reflection of the work that was put in over the summer and the quarantine. It made me realize that I can push myself harder than what I even thought.”

With Roberts becoming a vocal leader on the court and in the locker room, the Panthers are in good hands. Georgia State returns from its hiatus on Feb. 16 to face the Troy Trojans.