Hoping to carry on the winning ways from last season, head coach Ron Hunter has the challenge of putting together a new team for 2012/13.
“It’s different because we’ve got nine new faces in the program this year,” Hunter said.
This team’s lack of experience does not change Hunter’s expectations.
“We’ll never use anything, experience or whatever, as an excuse. That’s not what we do,” Hunter said. “If you’re good enough, you play. And that’s what we talk about to our guys. Experience or youth, you’ll never hear me talk about it.”
Hunter’s trust on the team is so high that he even decided to start two freshmen – R.J. Hunter and Markus Crider.
“This is my nineteenth year as a head basketball coach, and I’ve never started a freshman, and I’m going to start two freshmen,” Hunter said. “R.J. Hunter and Markus Crider are two vital parts of what we do, so two freshmen will start.”
Despite his full trust on the two freshmen, it’s impossible for the Panther coach to remain calm.
“That makes me nervous- I’m having sleepless nights right now. But they’re very, very special freshmen,” Hunter said.
Hunter has yet to familiarize with the new team, since last year, the squad consisted mainly out of seniors.
However, he plans to rely on strong defensive play just like last year, even though he foresees the offense to be a little more effective.
“We will pressure, more threes, we’re a better three point shooting team, offensively we’ll put more points up, so that’ll help out defense,” Hunter said. “Our offense is going to be much better.”
One of the biggest additions to the team is redshirt junior Manny Atkins, a transfer from Virginia Tech. Atkins, a 6’7 forward from Tucker High School, shot 91 percent from the free throw line and 44 percent from the field in limited minutes during his sophomore season. Coach Hunter believes that Atkins is ready for leadership role this upcoming season.
“Manny is a very good basketball player. Manny might be the most talented guy in our program right now,” Hunter said. “He’s played against Duke, he’s played against Carolina, he played against those teams. So he understands that.”
It will be tough sledding for a team with five returning starters, let alone nine new faces.
The Panthers face four teams within the top 100 of rating percentage index, a statistic that measures a team by strength of schedule by wins and losses.
Georgia State beat Drexel last year, which sat at No.64. Yet, Duke is a tougher rival, sitting at No. 7 in RPI, though its reputation goes past numbers.
“One of the things that happens with Duke is that they’ve won and done so many great things, you get beat by the logo more then you get beat by the team,” Hunter said. “Right now, I’m trying to coach against the logo.” Said Hunter
Beating Duke would be a huge accomplishment for the team.
Also, they haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2001, over three coaches ago, and their chances are especially murky this year as the team transitions to the Sun Belt Conference, rendering them ineligible for conference play.
However, Hunter is still optimistic about the team’s chances.
“Our goal is to get there this year, every year that’s a part of our goal and we want to do that. You know, we’re switching conferences,” Hunter. “Sometimes it’s just about being in the right place at the right time and winning at the right place. We’ll get there, there’s no question we’ll get there. We just got to keep working to that goal.”
They’ll have support. Georgia State men’s basketball tickets are flying off the shelf, and at the season’s first exhibition game, the home side was flush with student supporters.
The Panthers travel to Duke for the Blue Devils’ season opener on Nov. 9.