Lefty Driesell challenges Georgia State’s basketball fans

Lefty Driesell grabbed the microphone at the end of the tipoff breakfast for Georgia State’s basketball teams and implored those in attendance to attend the games.

“You guys have to go to the games,” he told the members of the Panthers Athletic Club. “You guys have to support them with money. If you guys buy two season-tickets, you have to sell five or six more. I want to see that Sports Arena filled.”

The Panthers’ men’s basketball team had an average attendance of 915 last season. There were numerous reasons, mostly because the team wasn’t very good (12-19). However, athletics director Cheryl Levick hopes she’s hired the right man in Ron Hunter to turn around the program and fill the Sports Arena, whose court is named after Driesell, the last man to take the Panthers to the NCAA tournament.

As the men’s team prepares for the first practice of the season on Friday, Driesell told the couple hundred in attendance on Thursday in downtown Atlanta that the success the CAA is having in the NCAA tournament (VCU and GMU have made it to the Final Four in recent years) can be traced to the fact that the teams will play on the road, in places like the Sports Arena.

“Maryland had something like 10 guaranteed games last year,” he said, spreading out the fingers on his hand. “I can win a guaranteed game and I’m almost 80 years old.”

Hunter, who was hired after spending 17 seasons at IUPUI, said Driesell told him that one of his greatest disappointments during his six years was the fact the Sports Arena never sold out.

“It hit me like a ton of bricks,” Hunter said. “I just had been on the job for a day [when he told me]. He won 29 games. What will I have to do?”

Hunter was joking, kind of. He pointed out that the campus has changed a lot since Driesell coached from 1997-2003, including numerous dorms and other on-campus hubs for students, and there’s a new administration as well.

“But we do have to have people coming to the games,” he said.

Levick said they are working on getting more fans. Their goal is to double season-ticket sales from last year, which would be 400 sold for the men’s team and 160 for the women’s team. She said renewals are significantly ahead of last year’s pace as they inch closer to the season opener. The men’s team will open with an exhibition game against Southern Poly on Oct. 31. The women’s team will host Young Harris on Nov. 9 in its first exhibition.

Levick said the next phase is a massive blanketing of season-ticket holders in football. The athletics department is also working with student leaders on campus to make sure they know times and dates of games.

While Driesell supplied most of the entertainment, Hunter and women’s basketball coach Sharon Baldwin-Tener provided some of the answers to questions about this year’s teams. The women’s team returns two starters as part of six letter-winners. The men’s team, featuring its new coach, returns four starters and three other key returners. However, they will be playing a much different, much faster system than they played under previous coach Rod Barnes, whose team went 12-19 last season.

“The shot-clock operator can retire,” Hunter joked.

Here are a few more highlights from the breakfast (questions and answers have been paraphrased):

Q: How do you measure the success of this year’s team:

Baldwin-Tener: We hope to be much more competitive in the CAA. I’m curious to see the preseason ballots at media day next week. I’ll bet we are between sixth and eighth, and possibly ninth. I hope to finish higher than that.

Q: How many pairs of shoes do you own?

RH: Not as many as my wife. We’ve provided more than 2 million pairs of shoes with Samaritan’s Feet.

Q: How will your improve the team’s free-throw shooting (the Panthers were one of the worst free-throw shooting teams in the country last year)?

RH: If you can’t make free-throws you can’t win. We will improve on that.

Note: Hunter said that everything in practice is a competition, including free-throw shooting.

Q: Goals for the season.

RH: I can’t imagine going through college and not having an opportunity to win. I want these two seniors, who have been through a lot, to have a chance to win.

We have goals that I won’t share. But we have extremely high expectations.

SBT: The top-half of the CAA is our objective. We want to win all the games we are supposed to win and win some we shouldn’t. We lost some games we should have won last year and I want to change that.

Q: Describe your approach to recruiting?

SBT: Growing up in Smyrna, and seeing how much Georgia State has changes, it’s an easy sell right now. Where it is and where it’s going…it’s a wonderful time. We’re going to build the program the right way.

RH: I don’t have a hard time talking. If you can sell IUPUI to someone. I bet half the people in this room don’t know what IUPUI stands for. If I can sell that, I can sell anything.

Q: Do you fit your system to a team, or the team to your system?

RH: The team didn’t do well the past couple of years, so we are going to fit the team to the system. I think kids can play my system. I don’t think they brought me to coach another system.

– Doug Roberson, AJC. Follow me on twitter @ajcgsu

16 comments Add your comment

GSU

October 13th, 2011
11:11 am

Thanks Doug. Although I’m excited to see what CRH brings to the table, I have to remind myself that they all come highly regarded so I’ll just hope for the best. Give me a .500 season and that will be a major improvement.

GSU is in Atlanta

October 13th, 2011
11:16 am

Good Article…Let’s hope that we can achieve better than an average attendance of 916, which I think will happen. Winning is a huge key, along with having a great new coach who has a winning background and attitude.

Panther08

October 13th, 2011
11:52 am

CRH is the real deal! Let’s Go Panthers!

GSU91

October 13th, 2011
12:10 pm

When are they going to announce the FB season ticket numbers?

GSU

October 13th, 2011
2:21 pm

I hope he’s the real deal. He’s talking about shooting in his presser, but booted off one of the best young shooters this program has seen in a while in Maynor. We’re tipping off in less than a month so, we’ll see.

I do love the shorten bench!

Panama

October 13th, 2011
3:13 pm

Was a great event and meeting Lefty was beyond outstanding. Coach Hunter is a riot. I cannot ever remember being this excited about a GSU basketball season.

GSU4LIFE

October 13th, 2011
3:15 pm

This has to be the easiest schedule in years. If Hunter doesn’t post a .700 win %, he should be done.

Panama

October 13th, 2011
3:21 pm

Done after one year????? I am not sure you can ever call a CAA conference schedule easy.

Ryan

October 13th, 2011
8:15 pm

.700 or fired.

Unreal, some of you need to stop taking notes from the UGA blog comments.

This guy is the real deal, have some patience. His recruiting class this year will be the best ever at GSU.

AgentOrange

October 13th, 2011
9:12 pm

I’ll wait and see what he does… feels like we heard the same stuff from the guys above when Barnes was hired.

Itsmeagain

October 14th, 2011
1:13 am

Ignore the troll, it’s useless to fight him. As for the similarities between Barnes and Hunter, Barnes was on his way down when he came, Hunter is on his way up. Also, it’s a good thing that Hunter found problems with the current team, it means that Barnes was doing something wrong (resulting in our overall crappiness) and Hunter can correct it.

GSU4LIFE

October 14th, 2011
8:05 am

I hope he does have a great recruiting class- he just kicked the best player that GSU ever had off the team. Not a good start. .700 or bust.

[...] State basketball fans get a challenge from former Coach Lefty Driesell…sell out the Sports Arena. Also included are highlight questions from the GSU Basketball Tip-Off event answered by Coach [...]

GSU

October 14th, 2011
6:52 pm

.700 or bust is way too ambitious considering our checkered past. Give me a .500 record that’s trending upward and I’ll be extremely pleased.

Playing no more than eight, plus giving the players room to make mistakes is a big change and will result in at least 5 more victories over last year.

Zamboni Racer

October 15th, 2011
4:50 pm

I may purchase season tix this year. Had them back when Lefty was coach and enjoyed attending, especially liked Lefty’s loonies, those guys were a lot of fun. I was always amazed how few students attended. We have the football season tix and I know the GSU athletics assn can use the funds. I like Cheryl Levick as AD, but was disappointed when they stopped broadcasting games on 88.5 and moved over to 1160am. Their signal is so weak I can hardly pick up the games when I’m at home in Tucker.

affolter

October 15th, 2011
7:45 pm

C’mon you guys, support your team. There’s nothing like an energetic home crowd to help these kids want to give that little bit extra. May be the difference in a game that completely changes the season. Besides, college basketball is a blast.