Sorry that it’s been a while since my last post. I’ve been enjoying some time off. I hope you are getting some time off, as well.
When Ron Hunter took over Georgia State’s basketball program, he discussed how he wanted the players to regain the fun feelings they had while playing in high school.
He didn’t want he culture of losing that seemed to permeate the program to beat his team before he even got a chance to start implementing his systems.
And then they started off losing the season’s first three games.
Hunter said it was the best thing could have happened.
“We had just 2 ½ weeks to prepare for the season,” he said. “When you have a new team, new system, new coach, it’s just too early. It’s just too early and you play some established basketball programs. I had to make changes. I realized there’s certain things I couldn’t do that I’ve done the past 17 years.”
He simplified the defense and the team has rattled off seven consecutive wins with a chance to tie the record for the school’s longest win streak against Utah Valley on Saturday.
Basketball is fun again, said the players.
“It does feel like high school, having fun, winning,” said forward Eric Buckner, who is averaging 10.4 points and 6.9 rebounds per game during the win streak.
Guard James Fields said the team seems comfortable taking advantage of the different skills each player has.
“It’s clicking because everyone is being themselves,” he said. “We have different types of shooters, different things different guys do well. We are putting it together.”
It would have been easy for the team to fold after those first few losses to Washington, Portland and Florida Atlantic, each considered NCAA Tournament-caliber before the season.
Jihad Ali said instead the key to the turnaround was exactly what Hunter wanted them to do.
“We got back to the basics of having fun and working hard on the court,” he said. “It’s pretty much why we are on the seven-game win streak.”
But can they keep it up? Hunter said it takes more than a few wins to overcome the 58 losses the senior class experienced the previous three seasons.
“I’m really proud to see these kids smiling and enjoying basketball again,” he said. “What I’m concerned about is, it’s almost like they are waiting to see the bottom fall out. Around here, there’s not been much success. From the very first day, I’ve said ‘Why not now? Show me some book that says we can’t now.’ ”
So what will it take?
The Panthers’ win streak hasn’t been built against a NCAA Tournament line up. At No. 188, McNeese State has the best RPI, according to realtimerpi.com. The rest of the victories came against teams that don’t crack the top 200, with four in the 300s.
Hunter predicts that if the team keeps winning deep into January perhaps that nervous feeling will finally subside. A good barometer will be a three-game stretch in early January against Drexel, followed by road games at VCU and George Mason.
“With so much losing that’s gone on here, everybody waits for something bad to happen,” he said. “What it’s really going to take is something in late January when you look up and say things are still the same. Not so much still the same that we are undefeated, but that we are playing well and playing with consistency.”
A look at the first three games, compared to the last seven:
Category First 3 Last 7
Points per game 70.7 73.7
Opponent ppg 80.3 49.4
Rebounds per game 33.7 41.1
Opponents rpg 34.7 33.1
Field-goal percentage 41.2 45.0
Opponent FG percentage 52.9 32.6
– Doug Roberson, AJC. Please follow me on twitter @ajcgsu