Rob Lanier sits down to discuss basketball and his journey to Georgia State

Rob Lanier is the new Georgia State men’s basketball coach and has worked with NBA talent for years, including Washington Wizards star Bradley Beal. Photo by Matt Siciliano-Salazar | The Signal

When Ron Hunter left Georgia State earlier this year in April, the men’s basketball team was left without their coach of the last eight seasons. His sudden departure came two days after his Panthers were blown out by the University of Houston Cougars in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. 

Two weeks later, the Panthers got their guy. Rob Lanier was hired to become the team’s new head coach and usher in a new era of success. As a former assistant head coach with multiple Power Five schools — the University of Virginia (2005-07), the University of Florida (2007-10), University of Texas (2011-2015) and, most recently, the University of Tennessee (2015-2019) — Lanier brings plenty of experience to the new-look, youthful team. 

He’s seen many of his former players go to the next level, such as Grant Williams, the Boston Celtics’ 22nd overall pick in this past summer’s NBA draft. 

Williams is one of 11 NBA draft picks Lanier has either signed or coached in college, joining All-Stars like Bradley Beal and 2011 SEC Player of the Year Chandler Parsons.

This season, Lanier begins a new chapter in his story.

For the New York native, the decision to come to the Empire State of the South was an easy one.

“What they were looking for was the same I was looking for, and a connection was made in the room that day that if I was their guy, I knew I was gonna take their job,” Lanier said, recalling his first meeting with Georgia State University President Mark Becker and Athletics Director Charlie Cobb.

Being with a number of prominent basketball programs, Lanier knows what it takes to get his players to the elite level. This season will feature two of the biggest matchups in the history of the program: on the road against the current No. 4 team in the nation, Duke, on Nov. 15 and at Georgetown on Nov. 17.

“The better job you do focusing on each challenge, the better prepared you will be going forward, so there’s plenty of time for us to turn our focus to those games,” he said when asked about those two matchups. “But when we get to that point, if we’ve taken care of our businesses each day, we’ll go into those challenges giving ourselves an opportunity to perform.”

Not wasting any time, Lanier is already beginning to go on recruitment trips around the country to load up talent from the class of 2020. He noted that “there are really not a whole lot of differences” in the process at Georgia State compared to a Power Five program, such as Tennessee or Texas.

“Recruiting is about building relationships with talented young men who fit the mold of your program,” he said. “Georgia State is an established program that young men know about because of the success they have had.”

This is a team that also shot well from behind the three-point line last season. The Panthers finished 18th in Division I basketball last season. Although many of those key shooters played their final game in March, Lanier still has a vision for his team to be a threat from beyond the arc.

“I think we’ve got good shooting,” he said. “But I think we can excel in some other areas that might allow for us to make up some of that difference. We aspire to be a great rebounding team, we aspire to do a great job protecting the paint.”

At the end of the day, however, fundamentals will win you basketball games. The team ended a Thursday morning practice by having to make 80 layups in two minutes (I cannot emphasize how hard it is to do that).

As Lanier begins his journey with the Panthers, the future of the program looks bright. What he got hired to be was a basketball coach. But he wants to be so much more than just that. 

“Conference championships and NCAA Tournament appearances are great, but getting to see the young men I work with graduate and go on to be successful, whether playing basketball or not, has created my best memories,” he said.

He’ll be able to make even more of his best memories with people who are more than just colleagues, but good friends.

Lanier has pre-existing relationships with many of those who will be joining him on the sidelines this season.

Kyle Condon, Georgia State’s president of basketball operations, came over from the University of Tennessee.

Along with Condon came graduate assistants Isaiah Campbell and Dylan Brewster. 

“We were all together [at Tennessee],” Lanier said.

Justin Landry, assistant strength and conditioning coach, was with Lanier at the University of Texas.

He got to know one of his three assistant coaches, Chris Kreider, during Emory Lanier’s recruitment process.

“I got to know [him] because he was an assistant at Rice and he was recruiting my son,” Lanier said.

His second assistant coach, Cliff Warren, has been a part of his life for quite some time.

“I’ve known Coach Warren for 20-plus years,” Lanier said. 

The only fresh face for Lanier will be Jarvis Hayes, the 10th overall pick in the 2003 NBA Draft. And judging by his portfolio — former head coach at the collegiate level (Morehouse College) and color commentator for NBA TV and ESPN’s SEC Network — he’ll fit right in with this staff.

He’s also enjoyed the transition from the quiet town of Knoxville to the bright lights of Atlanta. 

“It’s been exciting. There’s an energy in ATL,” he said. “I live downtown. I think it’s an awesome place to be.”

Outside of basketball, Lanier is a family man. 

“My family is extremely important to me, so outside of basketball I spent as much time with them as possible,” he said. “My son is a senior in high school while my daughter is a junior. They both play sports and I enjoy watching them and being around them and my wife as much as possible.”