Ron Hunter, who now walks without a limp, laughs after saying it feels like the Georgia State men's basketball team played in the NCAA tournament just a week ago.
It has been almost six months since Hunter's Panthers famously upset third-seeded Baylor and turned he and his son, R.J., into national celebrities. First came the victory in the second round of the NCAA's when R.J. hit the game-winning 30-footer against the Bears. The shot caused Ron to fall off a stool he was forced to use after tearing his Achilles while celebrating winning the Sun Belt tournament. Next in the NCAA tournament came the close loss to Xavier, when after the game both Hunters cried on the podium when realizing it would be their last game together.
Georgia State (25-10 last year) will begin walking the long path that may lead back to the tournament with the opening of practice on Friday. The first game will be Nov. 13 against Middle Georgia State. Gone from the team are R.J. Hunter, Ryan Harrow and Curtis Washington, three starters and more than 40 points from the lineup. In are several new faces that give Hunter confidence that the Panthers won't be a one-and-done.
"We have 8-9 guys who can start for us right now," Ron Hunter said. "We will have to see."
While last year's team was built around the backcourt of R.J. Hunter and Harrow, who combined to average 38 of the team's 71.4 points per game, Ron Hunter said this year's team will be built around the frontcourt.
The group will be led by returning starter Markus Crider, a senior who averaged 9.7 points and 6.4 rebounds per game last year. Joining him will be Indiana transfer Jeremy Hollowell and redshirt freshman Jeff Thomas. Hunter threw out both of their names when asked who would be to the go-to guy should the team be trailing by two with 10 seconds left. There is also returning starter T.J. Shipes, who averaged 4.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last year, reserves Jordan Session and Jalen Brown.
The backcourt will be led by Kevin Ware, who averaged 7.6 points and 3.1 rebounds per game and who Hunter said will be much improved compared to last year, and Isaiah Dennis, who played important minutes and made big plays in the Sun Belt and NCAA tournaments. Isaiah Williams, a transfer from Samford, and true freshman Malik Benlevi, will also be in the mix.
Whereas last year's offense was predictable most games because of the dominance of R.J. Hunter and Harrow, Ron Hunter said this year's will be more difficult to prepare for because of the versatility of the players and the fact that the team may play differently on offense than in the past. Because there's no true center on the team, don't expect to see someone shoehorned into the role.
"We have 5-6 guys that can score between 9-17 points a game," he said.
Hunter predicts the team's strength will be defense, particularly with Ware and Dennis at the top of the matchup zone. Hunter said their play against Xavier was the "best I've seen since I've coached."
Last year's team allowed an average of 62.4 points per game on 38.8-percent shooting.
"Beauty of our team a year ago was when we were really good it wasn't about our scoring it was about our defense," he said. "We won a tournament game and scored 38 points."
This article was written by Doug Roberson from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.