“We’ve got a lot of new pieces,” Hayes said. “We’re trying to figure it out. I think our returning guys have been unbelievable. This is a deeper team, and we’re trying to figure out rotations. That’s what the early season is for.”
The four holdovers are Dwon Odom, Brenden Tucker, Jamaine Mann and Ed Nnamoko. Odom was voted preseason second-team all-conference, and Tucker was named to the third team by the coaches.
They’ll be joined by transfers Jay’den Turner, Lucas Taylor, Toneari Lane, Leslie Nkereuwem and Rickey Bradley Jr. as the team’s core players.
Hayes also was able to harvest local talent. Nine players are from Georgia, including highly sought freshmen Malik Ferguson of Grovetown and 7-footer D.K. Dut of Sudan by way of Greenforest Academy in Decatur.
Turner, a 6-5 grad transfer from Queens University, and Nkereuwem, a 6-8 grad transfer from Longwood, bring some needed experience and leadership to the young team.
“They’re probably a combined 400 years old,” Hayes said. “And I really having that experience on our team. They’ve been through the battles. They’ve probably got 100 games between them, and that sort of experience goes a long way – and they’ve won.”
Both showed up with strong performances in the 92-66 exhibition win over Morehouse. Turner had 19 points and 12 rebounds, while Nkereuwem had 10 points.
The exhibition showed a better side of 3-point shooting. The Panthers made 11 of those, four of them from Taylor, a junior transfer from Wake Forest.
“We set out last spring to improve that area of our game, and I think we’ve done that in grand fashion,” Hayes said. “And we’ve still got to continue to work.”
But Hayes was not thrilled with the effort on the boards against Morehouse, which had 16 offensive rebounds leading to 22 second-chance points.
“We’ve got to get a whole lot better on the defensive glass,” he said. “I’m not taking anything away from Morehouse, who I think has an opportunity to win their league, but to give up 16 offensive rebounds and to be that uncompetitive on the defensive glass … that’s not going to cut it.”
The season begins Monday, when the Panthers travel to play Belmont at the Curb Center in Nashville, Tennessee. (TV: ESPN-Plus; Radio: WRAS-FM 88.5). Belmont won last year’s game 68-66 when GSU missed at the rim at the buzzer. Dwon Odom scored 24 points for the Panthers.
Belmont went 22-11 last season and was picked to finish fourth in the preseason Missouri Valley Conference poll. The Bruins graduated Greater Atlanta Christian product Ben Sheppard, who was the Indiana Pacers’ first-round draft choice, but return preseason all-conference pick Cade Tyson, last season’s MVC Freshman of the Year.
Georgia State plays again Saturday at Western Michigan in the inaugural Sun Belt-MAC Challenge. Georgia State’s home opener comes at 2 p.m. Nov. 17 against Northern Illinois, part of the Capitol Challenge at the GSU Convocation Center.