GSU Panthers
Look to Make it into the Post Season

By Dave Cohen

When Ron Hunter first arrived at Georgia State he talked about changing the culture of Georgia State Basketball and it's safe to say, at this point, he has been successful in what was his first main objective. Hunter leads his Panthers into the 2017 season having won 20 or more games in three of the last four seasons, including back-to-back 25 win seasons in 2014 and again in 2015 with an NCAA Tournament appearance. Georgia State finished 20-13 last year and advanced to postseason play for the fourth time in six years. At the same time, the Panthers finished in second place in the Sun Belt Conference last season, marking the third time in four years finishing in the top two. Among the returners is Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year D'Marcus Simonds who averaged 13.4 points and 4.0 rebounds per game, making 22 starts in his first year. Insite's Dave Cohen previews the season with coach Ron Hunter

It was a tough way to finish the season last year with that loss in the CIT. There's been a lot of work in the off-season to get ready for the 2017 season.

We had a great Summer. One of the better one's we've had and I thought they did a great job early in the Fall. The great part is that we have a veteran group. I think seven of our top nine guys have started a game, scored double-figures in a game, so when you have that much experience coming back and add in the freshman that we added, I'm excited.

This team loses its leading scorer and leading rebounder from last season in Jeremy Hollowell and Willie Clayton. Who are you looking to fill that on-court production?

That's one of the things I'm excited about with the culture of our program. We don't have to re-build the program here. What we've been able to do when guys leave is have new guys come in and replace them, guys that have played in our system, so we always have veterans and when you have a culture of winning, and that's what we've been able to establish here, then we're always going to have those guys that have been here before. We lost some good players but we think we're going to be much better.

You talked about changing the culture of Georgia State Basketball when you first arrived in Atlanta. Having won 20 or more games in four of the last five seasons, and having reached an NCAA Tournament in 2015, do you feel now that you've built a solid foundation with the program?

Yes, we talk about a winning culture here but it's not just about the talk. You've got to be able to walk the walk with it and we've got guys that understand that. It starts during the summer and then the fall. They understand our system is a little unique so it takes the freshman and the news guys a little bit longer but this group we've got here is pickling things up. Jordan Tyson is a transfer (St. Bonaventure) and the transfers have really helped us. We think he is going to be a good asset and really help us but it still comes down to the veteran guys that have been in the system and understand it. Of those stats that you read, we've got about seven or eight guys here that have been a part of that.

Along with the core group of veterans returning you've also brought in an impressive freshman class.

Yes, I'm really excited about our freshman. Denis Alibegovic can really shoot the ball. I'm really happy to have him in our program. Early on I wasn't sure how much he would play but the way he is making shots he could end up playing a lot. Kane Williams is a solid freshman point guard who's battling to earn a starting spot and then we added one of the most talented freshman we've had since D'Marcus and that's 6-9 Josh Linder, who's just trying to figure it out a little bit but his talent and athleticism is something we haven't had in a long time at that position.

Malik Benlevi really started to come on last season and showed signs of becoming a consistent difference-maker.

His confidence level right now is just unbelievable. He had a great sophomore campaign and now he's a junior and a captain of our team. You're talking about a guy that has a big-time basketball IQ, understands how to play, athletic, and plays four positions for us. We can't win games unless he's on
the floor.

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