Rob Lanier: “They’ve walked the walk and talked the talk”

Heading into basketball season, Head Coach Rob Lanier gives his feedback after resuming practices with the team. Photo submitted by GSU Athletics.

“It’s always hard to believe when this time comes around that it’s here already,” Georgia State men’s basketball head coach Rob Lanier said after the team’s first practice last Monday.

The Panthers’ third-year head coach may have joked about not wanting to talk about the practice, but he could not say enough about the men who are looking to capture the program’s first NCAA Tournament birth in three years. 

With the deepest team he’s had in Atlanta, it’s possible. Corey Allen, Eliel Nsoseme, Kane Williams and Justin Roberts have impressed early in camp. 

As the top-four returning players, Lanier is tasking each to be a leader this season. He compared them to a group of four Tennessee, all of whom became NBA draft picks. The four previously mentioned Sun Belt standouts might not have as high odds to go to the league, but Lanier doesn’t seem to mind. 

“I was using those guys as an example for our guys about hard work. Corey Allen has assumed that role inside of our team as the hardest worker,” Lanier said. “Kane has spent more time in the gym working on his game than at any other time since he’s been here, and it [is] noticeable.”

The Panthers’ Nov. 9 regular-season opener against the Brewton-Parker Barons is right around the corner. Lanier’s first game at Georgia State was against the Barons, and they won 104-35. With four weeks left before the competition, the team as a whole isn’t quite where Lanier and his staff want them yet.

“Even though it might be competitive, there isn’t necessarily that mentality that ‘I’m going to come in and take your spot’ sort of competition,” Lanier said. “We’ll get some of that, but I haven’t seen enough of that, to be honest with you.”

The Panthers also have new faces this season. Nelson Phillips, maybe the purest athlete on the team, missed last season due to a meniscus injury. Jordan Rawles, a Western Kentucky transfer who Lanier says has been “working his tail off,” and Evan Johnson are both starting-caliber players. 

The main problem is balancing out all of the minutes for the team to get everyone time on the court. Along with the two freshmen, Chien-Hao Ma is making a case for the team’s best shooter.

“Each of the freshmen [has] had their moments where they weren’t sure if they were cut out for this, and nobody fits that description more than Ma,” Lanier said of the Taiwanese sharpshooter. “If you watch him shoot, it’s pretty to watch. Even when he misses it, it looks good coming out of his hands.”

Lanier will find ways to exhibit all of the untapped tools on his bench during those crucial conference games, whether it’s a Phillips fastbreak dunk or a Nsoseme post-up. Georgia State has maintained their core team from last year, including Allen and Williams for super senior seasons, Nsoseme, Roberts and brought in even more depth.

Needless to say, the Panthers are expecting great performances this year for the whole team.