Jonas Hayes at Georgia State - right man, right time

Georgia State hired a coach whose alma mater just considered him for its vacancy and chose someone else. That’s OK. Jonas Hayes has spent 40 years being underrated.

Jarvis Hayes led both the Southern Conference and the SEC in scoring and became an NBA lottery pick. In those days, he drove the motorbike; his younger brother – younger by five minutes – rode in the sidecar.

The Hayes twins played one season at Western Carolina before deciding to transfer. They and their father spoke with Eddie Fogler, then coaching South Carolina. They met with Paul Hewitt, coming off his first season at Georgia Tech. Both had the same reaction: We’d love to have Jarvis, but we’re not sure about Jonas. Years later, Hewitt would say, “Dumbest move of my life.”

The twins opted to play for Georgia, coach Jim Harrick having no issue with family bundling. (Harrick’s son was an assistant coach.) Jarvis Hayes was as good as advertised. Jonas was better than anyone expected.

Under Harrick, Jonas became an invaluable sub on maybe the best men’s basketball team in school history. Owing to Tony Cole’s revelations of improper benefits, the administration pulled the Bulldogs from the SEC and NCAA tournaments. On that jarring Monday in March 2003, the twins joined a protest outside then-president Michael Adams’ house.

The Harricks exited in disgrace. Jarvis went off to seek his NBA fortune. Jonas became a starter and a double-figures scorer under Dennis Felton. By 2005, he was an assistant coach at Morehouse. He moved to South Carolina State, then to Belmont Abbey, then back to Athens as chief recruiter for Mark Fox. When Fox was fired, Hayes left for a similar job at Xavier. His last act at the Cincinnati school was leading the Musketeers to the NIT title as interim head coach.

Georgia fired Tom Crean one day after the Bulldogs finished 6-26. Hayes’ candidacy was endorsed by many UGA backers. This correspondent joined the chorus. Hayes was afforded an interview. Georgia instead hired Mike White away from Florida. Asked this week about his alma mater’s choice, Hayes was the essence of class.

“I immediately got excited,” Hayes said. “I think (White is) an unbelievable person and an unbelievable coach. Georgia got it right. They got a coach who knows what he’s doing. … I will always have love for that place.”

Hayes spoke Thursday via Zoom, having been announced 31 hours earlier as Georgia State’s coach. This move cements the Panthers’ status as the most intriguing team in a state that turns out a slew of basketball players.

Said Hayes: “This is THE Georgia State University.”

Then: “We’re the most successful basketball program in this state. We have no intention of ever not being.”

Under Ron Hunter and Rob Lanier, the Panthers made the NCAA Tournament four times since 2014. Georgia and Tech made it once each over that span. The last Georgia-based program to win in the Big Dance was GSU in 2015, when R.J. Hunter’s One Shining Moment knocked dad Ron off his rolling chair. The Panthers beat UGA by 24 points in November 2018. They beat Tech in four overtimes in November 2020; come March, the Yellow Jackets would win the ACC Tournament.

Hayes: “What is the greatest indicator of future behavior? Past behavior. The past behavior of Georgia State University’s basketball program is highly successful.”

And: “This is a place that I love, a city that I love. … I grew up a stone’s throw from this campus.”

He and Jarvis were Douglass Astros together. They’ll be reunited at GSU, Jarvis having worked as Lanier’s assistant the past three seasons. “The synergies are unbelievable,” Jonas said of having his sibling alongside. “We may tease. We may joke. We may drink a few Cokes … but we love to win.”

This seems a particularly rich moment for Georgia State. The transfer portal has become a greater program-changer than high school recruiting. It allows players who’ve left this state to return – think of Tech’s Jordan Usher and Bubba Parham – as seasoned collegians. We note again: Hayes himself was a transfer.

“When kids decide to come back home, they understand the magnitude of being able to share their college experience with their family,” he said. “You go off and look at the bright lights and everything that glitters, (but) I understand the importance – I’m one that lived it – of having mom and dad, grandma and granddaddy, sisters and brothers being able to share in that experience.”

More glad tidings: The Panthers are set to take occupancy of the new Georgia State Convocation Center on Capitol Avenue. It will seat 7,500 and prevent any typist from ever again referring to the Panthers as a team that plays in a walk-up gym. In his second day on the job, Hayes said of the GSCC: “It’s a game-changer. We’ve already started selling.”

Georgia State has a new coach, a new arena, and a new slogan heavy on alliteration. He and his twin, Hayes said, plan “to unlock the secret sauce of sustainable success,” and this time he’s at the wheel. This is my favorite hire of the century.