Year three of the Rob Lanier for Georgia State men’s basketball

The Panthers return several players from last year’s team and also boast a few solid newcomers. Photo by Georgia State Athletics

With the Georgia State Panthers opening their season tonight, a fresh start begins for a team that looks different and is carrying high expectations on their shoulders.

Georgia State enters the season as the best team in the Sun Belt’s preseason coaches poll, in part because of Preseason All-Sun Belt honorees Corey Allen, Kane Williams and Eliel Nsoseme. Rob Lanier and his staff are returning 12 players from last year’s team. They also brought in a stellar recruiting class, featuring freshmen Chien-Hao Ma, Ja’Heim Hudson, Jamall Clyce and Danny Stubbs. Jordan Rawls, a transfer from the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, who is immediately eligible to play, also finds himself a well-rounded rotation.

Simply, depth and building chemistry are two significant contributing factors to a team seeking their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 2019. 

Photo by Georgia State Athletics

Through the NCAA’s super-senior rule, Allen and Williams each exercised a fifth year of eligibility and will join head coach Rob Lanier as the team chases their first Sun Belt Conference title since 2019. After finishing first in the East division of the Sun Belt last season, the Panthers’ return continuity has kept the core intact as seven of their top eight scorers have returned this season. 

In college basketball, the return of 10 players is quite rare with all the factors that come with the collegiate game but to have your top statistical leaders in generally every category return is a huge spike in team confidence. 

“It goes back to when you’re playing those back-to-back games if they can have a full year where maybe the pressure is on the players to play 30 minutes a game where they can learn the system from their teammates not just from their coaching staff, that’s just going to benefit the program long-term,” associate athletics director Mike Holmes said.

This team is a senior-laden group, with four of the projected starting five either seniors or super-seniors. 

Last year, the Panthers’ starters accounted for 78 percent of the team’s points with nearly 63 a game. Getting that kind of production back with new additions and players developing their games further to become better versions of themselves can do nothing but establish credibility as a potentially dangerous team for not only the Sun Belt but any opponent on their schedule. 

Team chemistry will also be a strong aspect for this team, with COVID and constant separation, to keep players safe at the beginning of last season this team was able to come together and learn to appreciate playing with one another. Now this year, the COVID restrictions aren’t as prevalent with the vaccine, they’ve had a full off-season to work out all the kinks, improve in areas they lacked last season and be full-on ready to go on their November 9th start date. 

“They have the experience; they’ve been at the highs and they’ve also been at the lows and they all have a common mission that they want to go out with a championship come March,” Holmes said. “To add to that I think this is the deepest group that we’ve ever had. Now everyone understands the system and the style of play that Coach Lanier wants.”

Returning to normal has allowed the coaches to implement different strategies in practice and properly condition the players to run their desired offense and defense respectively. Being able to focus and hone in on areas where coaches felt the team underperformed in last year can work wonders for adjusting and adapting going into conference play. The main focus over the off-season was defense, for the Panthers, they know the scoring is there as they were one of the highest-scoring teams in the Sun Belt last year but as the old saying goes “Defense wins championships.”

Photo by Georgia State Athletics

“A lot more focus on the defensive side of the game and installing more of the team’s system, the type of plays they want to run, types of defenses, types of offenses than a year ago,” Holmes said. “Definitely more of a defensive-oriented summer. They have to learn the whole system, it’s better to be able to install that in the summer.”

This team believes they can go the distance and they undoubtedly have the pieces and experience to do so. The ’94 feet of Hell’ Coach Lanier wants to institute can rejuvenate the Panther’s defense and allow them to hold their ground as the top team in the conference.