Georgia State hoops may not be a one-and-done

Ron Hunter, who still walks without a limp, laughs after saying it feels as if only a week has passed since Georgia State played in the NCAA tournament.

It has been slightly more than six months since Hunter’s Panthers famously upset third-seeded Baylor, turning him and his son, R.J., into national celebrities.

First came the Baylor upset, when R.J. hit the game-winning 30-footer. The shot caused Ron to fall off a stool he had to use after tearing his Achilles while celebrating winning the Sun Belt tournament. Their NCAA tournament ended two days later with the close loss to Xavier, after which both Hunters cried on the podium, realizing it would be their last game together.

Georgia State (25-10 last year) will begin the long path that may lead back to the tournament with the opening of practice on Friday. The Panthers open the season on Nov. 13 against Middle Georgia State. Gone from the team are R.J. Hunter, Ryan Harrow and Curtis Washington, three starters representing more than 40 points. But several new faces have arrived that give Hunter confidence that the Panthers won’t be an NCAA one-and-done.

“We have eight, nine guys who can start for us right now,” 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 for 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 names when asked who would be to the go-to guy should the team be trailing by two with 10 seconds left.

Also returning is starter T.J. Shipes, who averaged 4.6 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last year, and 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, and Isaiah Dennis, who played important minutes and made big plays in the postseason. Isaiah Williams, a transfer from Samford, and true freshman Malik Benlevi will also be in the mix.

Whereas last year’s offense was predicated by R.J. Hunter and Harrow, Ron Hunter said this year’s will be more difficult to prepare for due to more versatility in the lineup. Because there’s no true center on the roster, don’t expect to see someone shoehorned into the role.

“We have five, six 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.”