Year one of the Rob Lanier era at 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 Georgia State Panthers men’s basketball head coach Rob Lanier was asked about the team in October, he thought highly of them.

“I like this group of guys,” Lanier said. “We’ve got a long way to go and a lot to learn, but it really is a group that I enjoy being around.”

The team’s season ended in disappointment after a gut-wrenching 81-62 loss to the Georgia Southern Eagles in the quarterfinals of the Sun Belt Conference Tournament on March 11. The Panthers and Eagles were the fourth and fifth seeds, respectively.

The loss ended the Panthers’ bid for a third straight Sun Belt Conference championship and NCAA Tournament appearance.

It was also a night of goodbyes. Redshirt senior guard Damon Wilson and senior forward Chris Clerkley’s college basketball careers ended with the loss. Lanier praised them just days before the blowout, citing the bond he shared with both of his veteran players.

“Dame and I got close over the summer cause we spent a lot of time in the gym together one-on-one,” Lanier said. “We were tweaking his jump shot, and it was a tedious process, and I earned a lot about him through that process because he was committed to it.”

Clerkley, the future graduate assistant to the team he was a part of four years, draws nothing but love from Lanier.

“I want Chris to be around,” Lanier said. “I want his energy to be around the program. I think he’s a first-class young man and just a tremendous role model of what … kind of athletes we want to represent us.”

Wilson and Clerkley were two of the eight returning players from last year’s team who had to adjust to new changes. Everything from a more spread-out offense to a full-court press gave the team a new identity. 

While the Panthers have come a long way, Lanier believes the year is just a stepping stone in the right direction for the program.

“I think you always feel like it’s a work in progress … because every year is different,” Lanier said. “You’re always hoping that somewhere along the line, things crystallize for them. I’m not so sure we’ve reached that point yet — we’re still striving for that level of connectedness, where you can really take off, and it’s never too late.”

A work in progress the season was true. The Panthers scored a conference-best 78.1 points per game, they still ended the season much sooner than anticipated.


The team is young and, especially with many new players on the team, still unfamiliar with the Sun Belt Conference and its competition. 

The frontcourt is a perfect example of this: Joe Jones III and Jalen Thomas are both freshmen who continued to make strides this season.

“I think we saw from both of them spurts of who they can become as players,” Lanier said. “And I think they’re learning the college game — the speed of it, the meticulous nature of scouting and just how good the players are in the Sun Belt [Conference].”

While Lanier, a native of New York, learned more about his players throughout the year, the season also allowed him to learn more about himself as a person. Additionally, his perception of a coach has changed over time. It has been 14 years since his last head coaching job at Siena College when he coached the Saints from 2001-05.

“A lot of times, as a young coach, you think, ‘All right, here’s how you have to act, here’s what you have to do,’ watching images of the guys that you looked up to and that are successful in the profession,” he said.

His perception has changed over time. Over the course of his career as an assistant coach for a number of Power Five schools, such as the Tennessee Volunteers and Florida Gators, Lanier has learned the secret to success.

“The reality is [that] the best chance of being good at anything is to be yourself,” Lanier said.

He also alluded to his perception of freshmen and how they enter their first season in college basketball. When Jones and Thomas were brought up, Lanier highlighted a trend among many first-year players.

“I think, a lot of times, young guys come into college basketball, and they’re playing against players and programs that they weren’t familiar with in high school, and they don’t have a picture of what the challenge is going to look like,” Lanier said. 

The team started off 1-3 but rattled off seven straight wins after their loss to Duke on Nov. 17. This was when Lanier began to realize the true identity of his team.

“We want to play well, we want to execute better, but we generally have competed, and I learned that about the team back in November,” he said.

The 2019-20 season is one that left a bitter taste in fans’ mouths, but it is also one that provided bright spots for the team. 

Junior guard Kane Williams was named to the All-Sun Belt Second Team following a season with averages of 14.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, all career highs.

Redshirt sophomore guard Justin Roberts was named to the All-Sun Belt Third Team. He was right behind Williams in scoring, averaging 13.2 per game to go along with 3.5 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. Roberts also led the team in total steals this season, with 49 (Williams had 48).

Lanier spoke highly of his backcourt and believes the two still have another level to unlock.

“I think they’ve established themselves as being respected players in the league, and that’s always great,” he said. “I think both of them can improve so much, and I think they realize that, and I think they’ll work towards that.”

Of course, the quarterfinal loss to the Eagles will sting. But for Lanier, it can only go up from here. He is excited about the future and hopes to continue building on the foundation set this past year.

“You’re always hoping that somewhere along the line, things crystallize for them,” Lanier said. “I’m not so sure we’ve reached that point yet — we’re still striving for that level of connectedness, where you can really take off, and it’s never too late.”