After arguably the biggest off-season in Georgia State basketball history, Ron Hunter’s Panthers hit the floor to kick off the regular season Saturday at 1 p.m. in Atlanta.
With two exhibition game victories in the books, the first a 30-point beat down of Shorter, and the next a 94-37 drubbing of Fort Valley State, Southern Poly makes its way to the GSU Sports Arena for the second straight year. The game last December ended with a 86-58 Panther win.
Saturday also marks the first time that the biggest addition to the Panther squad will suit up for the home team in a meaningful game. Redshirt junior Ryan Harrow, formerly of the Kentucky Wildcats, will be the leading man in the Panther backcourt, and after an impressive, 2-game exhibition slate scoring 17 and 19 points respectively, he will be the biggest name in an already potent lineup. Harrow was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA over the summer due to the medical condition of his father.
Harrow was in the spotlight much of last year as the main ball handler for John Calipari’s Wildcats. While the lights don’t shine quite as bright at GSU as they do at UK, all eyes will still be on the former top 50 recruit and hopeful NBA prospect.
Flanking Harrow will be senior captain Davonta White, who Harrow took over the point guard position from. White, enters his last season in a GSU uniform 516 points shy of becoming the all-time scoring leader in school history and should benefit greatly from the move to the shooting guard position. White known for his scrappy defense and ability to find an open shot will not get as many touches with Harrow running the show, but should get more quality looks with the defense focused elsewhere. White averaged 14.8 points and knocked down 43% of his shots after starting every game for the Panthers.
Defenses will undoubtedly be keying in on the big name Harrow and GSU’s super sophomore, RJ Hunter. Hunter, the son of head coach Ron, garnered honors throughout the CAA and national media last year after his stellar 17 point and 5.1 rebound per game averages put him at the top of almost every freshman statistic list. The 6’5 wing knocked down 73 three point baskets last year and shot 44% from the field. Hunter burst onto the scene after dropping 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds in his first collegiate game against Duke in Cameron Indoor. Hunter tallied an astounding 38 point performance against Old Dominion later in the season and received numerous national player of the week honors for the feat.
The other wing position belongs to that of redshirt senior Manny Atkins. After two years at Virginia Tech, Atkins made his way to GSU and made his debut with the team last year. He averaged a stout 14.2 points and 6.7 rebounds per contest after starting all 31 games for the Panthers. Atkins dropped 26 points three times last year and provides a physical scoring presence for Hunter’s squad.
Another Panther making his debut this season is 6’9 post man redshirt junior Curtis Washington. After sitting out last year due to NCAA transfer rules, the former USC Trojan is the only true big man on the roster. Washington is a key piece who Hunter will need to stay healthy, something he has not been able to do since high school, if they want to make a run at the NCAA tournament. Washington did not miss a beat during the exhibition series tallying 13 blocks.
Many experts around the country are hopping on the Panthers’ bandwagon with many of the major outlets predicting a conference title and a trip to the NCAA tournament, something the Panthers have not done since 2001. In order to make that happen, the Panthers have to take the season one game at a time, and that task begins with Southern Poly this Saturday.
Can Ron Hunter turn around, historically, one of the worst programs in America? In just his third year, things are looking good.