Six Georgia State seniors will play what is most likely their last game at the Sports Arena when Old Dominion visits on Wednesday.
Jihad Ali, Eric Buckner, James Fields, Brandon McGee, Josh Micheaux and Jamar Taylor will be honored before the game.
“Coach Hunter has helped myself and the rest of us go out, winning almost 20 games,” Ali said. “I don’t want my senior year to end. I just go out and play, not like it’s my last home game, but just as hard as I can.”
The possibility of 20 wins is something few predicted before the season. The Panthers were picked to finish 11th in the preseason. When he talks to his players about it, Hunter says they were 12th.
If they win on Wednesday, they can keep alive their hopes of finishing in fourth place in the CAA. Doing so ensures a bye in the first round of the CAA tournament. They would still need to win at William on Mary on Saturday, hope ODU loses to Drexel on Saturday, and need Delaware to lose at least one more game against either Towson or Northeastern.
The odds don’t seem to be in GSU’s favor, but the team has been defying probabilities most of the season.
The team lost 19 games last season under previous coach Rod Barnes. It lost 20 the year before that, 20 the year before that, and 21 during Ali’s freshman season (he redshirted as a sophomore).
On Saturday, Hunter implied he thinks the team can win the CAA tournament.
Ali said the players were tired of losing.
When Hunter was hired, he asked them to believe in themselves and believe in his systems. The players began to improve their endurance.
“Any time you lose, it stinks,” Ali said. “I’ve lost a lot in my career prior to this year, not going too far in the CAA tournament.”
Perhaps no player is a better example of possibilities than James Fields.
He struggled academically in high school. He said nobody believed he could maintain a high enough GPA to stay eligible.
Barnes took a chance on him.
Fields still struggled on the court and classroom, especially during his freshman year.
“In sports, I didn’t know what was going on. In the classroom, you had nobody to help you,” Fields said.
But then he learned the lesson Hunter was trying teach, albeit under a different coach.
“I understand that I have to do the work,” he said. He is majoring in public policy.
He earned the CAA Commissioner’s Academic Award for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons. This year’s winners haven’t been announced. He also was named to the CAA All-Academic First Team last season.
“I’m a much better person, much wiser,” he said. “Everything’s better.”
Ali and Fields shared a few of their memories:
Best win at sports arena
Ali: Defeating George Mason my sophomore year. I think I had a career-high against them.
Fields: Beating VCU the first time my junior year.
Best win overall
Ali: This year at VCU. I never won up there, neither had any of the rest of the seniors. I would have to say that was the biggest moment of my career.
Fields: Winning at VCU this year.
– Doug Roberson, AJC. Please follow me on twitter @ajgcu