Continuing the six-part series (I’m giving you a bonus portion) on what went wrong for Georgia State’s basketball season, which ended with a 63-61 loss to Texas State in the first round of the Sun Belt basketball tournament last week in New Orleans.
Georgia State was trying to make it back to the NCAA tournament without R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow.
Part VI: Freshmen development.
This is an issue that most programs face: Freshmen don’t come in as finished products. Georgia State’s did show potential, it just wasn’t enough to make a huge difference this season. Some of that will come with maturity. Some of that will come with coach’s decisions. Some of that will come with the work that the freshmen/sophomores put into improving.
Though he didn’t start playing consistently until the season’s final 10 games, point guard Austin Donaldson showed promise. He brought an energy on defense and fearlessness on offense. That he didn’t play earlier can be chalked up to coach’s decisions. He averaged 2.3 points and finished break-even in assists-to-turnovers in 17 games.
Guard Jeff Thomas had moments such as his 21 points at Texas-Arlington and 16 in the finale against Texas State, but he needs to learn how to score when his shot isn’t falling. That’s something R.J. Hunter became very good at in his three years in college. The coaches deserve credit for continuing to play Thomas. The experience he gained this season should benefit the program next year. He averaged 6.1 points per game.
Combo-man Malik Benlevi also showed potential, but also showed that he still is learning how to play college basketball with ill-advised shots early in possessions. He brings energy and a fearlessness that is fun to watch. He averaged 1.8 points per game.
Developing high school players has been a debatable issue for Hunter and his staff, one that became more noticeable with the surprising success that Georgia Southern had this season with a roster full of underclassmen.
Of the high school players Hunter has signed, only R.J. Hunter has earned all-conference honors. Neither Markus Crider nor T.J. Shipes, part of Hunter’s first recruiting class and two of the winningest players in program history, earned all-conference recognition in their four years. That’s not entirely on Hunter or the players because the coaches (or SIDs) vote on the awards, but you get the point of the point.
Hunter will welcome two high-profile signees, shooting guard D’Marcus Simonds and forward/center Chris Clerkley, into the program next year.
Part of the puzzle for Hunter has been the high-profile transfers that have come into the program and taken starting spots and playing time, which can make developing high school players more difficult. It’s hard to fault Hunter for bringing in talent like Ryan Harrow, Kevin Ware, Jeremy Hollowell or Isaiah Williams. Two more players, guard Devin Mitchell (Alabama) and forward/center Willie Clayton (Charlotte), will become eligible next year.
Mitchell and Simonds should bring outside shooting to complement or supplant Thomas and Williams. Clayton brings a body-style that the team hasn’t had since Hunter took over. Clayton would have been the perfect guy to put on the floor against Xavier’s big men in last year’s NCAA tournament.