“We get boogie, baby,” Kane Williams said with a beaming smile across his face. The junior guard was discussing the upcoming season and why students should be ready for the show, regardless of the fact that the team recently lost some of its better players, including D’Marcus Simonds and Malik Benlevi.
“If [students] want to see some wins [and] have a good time, come to the third floor [of the GSU Sports Arena],” he said.
For Williams, the upcoming 2019-20 season will be all about adapting to his new environment, whether it be his newfound role as one of the team’s leaders, or working under a new head coach, Rob Lanier.
“It is just a little adjustment for me and [Damon Wilson],” he said. “We are in leader roles now.”
For Coach Lanier, Williams’ progression as a leader has been significant to the team’s off-season growth, as they prepare to take on the Point University Skyhawks in Friday’s exhibition match.
“[Williams] has been the most vocal advocate each practice,” Lanier said. “He is a natural leader.”
For Williams, it was a transition that needed time, but Lanier has seen a significant development throughout the pre-season.
“I don’t think he fully embraced [the role] early on,” Lanier said. “Now, his voice matters more and I think it’s taken him a few weeks to settle in, and he has embraced it.”
Williams has not been alone in the process. Senior guard Damon Wilson, who also played a large role in last season’s run to the NCAA Tournament, has been with his fellow backcourt partner from the very beginning.
“I am trying to lead by example,” Wilson said. “We have a really good, skilled team.” Lanier has taken note of Wilson’s leadership and noted that it goes hand-in-hand with the team’s energy levels on the practice floor.
For those who returned from last season’s heartbreaking loss in the NCAA Tournament, the hiring of Lanier ushered in a new style of play.
“[Coach Lanier] is very defensive-minded,” Wilson said. For the senior, the transition into a hard-nosed man defense was difficult at first.
“It was a big change,” he said. “We are getting used to it and we are learning to love it.” Under Ron Hunter, the Panthers primarily ran a zone defense. Fans will not be seeing a zone defense much, if ever, this season.
“We will be a man-to-man defense,” Lanier said during April’s introductory press conference. “We’re going to guard you all the way up the floor and then when you get into the halfcourt, we’ll be guarding you then.”
Lanier knows there are expectations at Georgia State. Under Coach Hunter, the Panthers blossomed into the national spotlight, especially during the team’s 2015 run, in which Hunter famously coached from a stool, the result of an Achilles tear he suffered while celebrating the team’s conference triumph over Georgia Southern.
During April’s introductory press conference, Lanier stressed that the winning culture was paramount in his final decision to accept the position.
For Williams and Wilson, the upcoming season’s goals are no different than they were last year.
“We are always going for [the title],” Williams said. “I am trying to get all of them.”
For Wilson, this is his final year of eligibility. On top of a Sun Belt championship, he has high aspirations for his personal performances.
“First-Team All Sun Belt and Sun Belt Player of The Year; those are my expectations,” Wilson said.
After Friday night’s exhibition, the team opens up regular season play at home against Brewton-Parker College on Nov. 6.