Georgia State isn’t an easy job. We know this from the number of coaches who’ve tried and not quite succeeded, some of them good basketball men (Bob Reinhart, Rod Barnes). We also know that the best coach in GSU annals left in large part because of the inherent constriction of the Sun Belt, which has never risen above one-NCAA-bid status. The belief remains that the Panthers will go a long time before finding anyone as suited to the task as Ron Hunter. That said …
Rob Lanier fits most of the criteria that should have been on Georgia State’s mission statement. He has been around. He was head coach at Siena, just after Paul Hewitt and Louis Orr and ahead of Fran McCaffery. He has taken a team to the NCAA tournament, albeit a 17-19 crew that won its conference tournament on its home floor, and won a game once there, albeit a play-in.
In Rick Barnes at Texas and lately Tennessee and Billy Donovan at Florida, Lanier has worked under two of the best in the business. He has recruited at a high level – GSU’s release credits him with being involved in the signing of 11 McDonald’s All-Americans – and if he can bring even one McDonald’s man to the concrete campus, he should be crowned king of the world.
Georgia State isn’t like Texas and Florida and Tennessee, but it is a school in the heart of Atlanta that, thanks to Ron and R.J. Hunter, has a bit of a brand. It can subsist on 3-stars, such as D’Marcus Simonds and Malik Benlevi, and transfers, such as Kevin Ware and Ryan Harrow and Devin Mitchell. (At Tennessee, Lanier helped land a 3-star from Charlotte named Grant Williams, twice the SEC player of the year.) One-and-dones aren’t signing here, but someone from Atlanta who’s not happy with their first choice of colleges could find this place appealing.
If you’re hiring at GSU, the trick is finding someone who has both been a head coach and, should even a smidgen of success be forthcoming, isn’t apt to jump to something bigger. Lanier is 50. Hunter was 47 when he took the job; he stayed eight seasons, stayed after beating Baylor in the Big Dance on R.J.’s shot in 2015 and again after making the NCAA tournament again in 2018.
Georgia State’s hope is that Lanier can give them eight (or so) years of similar quality. It won’t be easy, but let’s be honest: How many Sun Belt programs have a better recruiting base – even if we’re talking 3-stars, as opposed to 5-stars – than a team in Atlanta?
Georgia State is planning for a new arena to be built sometime soon near Georgia State Stadium (nee Turner Field). That would help loads. Not many Division I programs play in walk-up gyms. If you’re Lanier, you’re seeing this as the opportunity that wasn’t seized at Siena. In 2004-05, his fourth and final season in Loudonville, N.Y., the Saints went 6-24, their worst record of this century.
Siena is in the Metro Atlantic, a lower mid-major that takes basketball seriously. The guy who replaced Lanier (meaning McCaffery, now of Iowa) took over and had five consecutive winning seasons. That was then, though, and having spent the past 14 years working at Virginia, Florida, Texas and Tennessee – in the ACC, the Big 12 and the SEC – is about as broad-based as backgrounds get.
Lanier played at St. Bonaventure, another small school that cares about the sport, and is the cousin of the most illustrious Bonnie ever – Bob Lanier, the big man with the size-22 feet and the jump shot that would have fit the pace-and-space NBA had he been born 40 years later. (The memory of watching, on a black-and-white TV, Buffalo Bob score 50 against Purdue in Madison Square Garden in 1969 remains fresh in this addled mind.)
Before Hunter, Georgia State was mostly a curiosity – a mid-major program in a fertile recruiting area that had made the NCAA tournament twice in its history. Hunter led the Panthers into March Madness three times in five years, and it coulda/shoulda been four times in six if not for a blown lead in the 2014 Sun Belt final. He believed, perhaps rightly, that he’d taken GSU as far as he could. But that’s not to say the next guy can’t aspire to similar heights.
The next guy is Rob Lanier. I don’t know that he’s a great choice – Hunter, having done well over 17 years at Indianapolis-based IUPUI, was a great choice – but he has seen and done a lot and is willing to try. This is a solid hire.
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