Ron Hunter may not be recovered from his ruptured achilles tendon yet, but the Georgia State head coach is still competing at a level above his program’s conference.
Late on Wednesday night, Hunter landed a commitment from D’Marcus Simonds, a talented, 6-foot-4 shooting guard. Simonds was originally committed to Mississippi State but he reopened his recruitment after Rick Ray was fired by the university.
“There’s no place like home!” Simonds, a native of Buford, Georgia, said on twitter. “I will be continuing my basketball career and education at Georgia State University!”
Simonds is one of the more talented guards in the south, the No. 84 recruit in the Class of 2016, according to Rivals. Simonds will be a nice piece for Hunter to build around, as he’ll arrive on campus after Kevin Ware graduates and when Indiana transfer Jeremy Hollowell is a senior. Former top 150 recruit and Alabama transfer Devin Mitchell will be a sophomore that year as well.
Georgia State is coming off of an upset win over No. 3 Baylor in the opening round of the 2015 NCAA tournament.
Last spring, guard Kevin Ware made the decision to transfer from Louisville and ultimately wound up at Georgia State where he plays for head coach Ron Hunter Sr. Of course Ware became a national story as a sophomore at Louisville, when his season came to an end in the first half of their Elite Eight win over Duke due to a broken shinbone suffered challenging a Tyler Thornton three-pointer.
But that moment became a bit of a burden for Ware, who wanted nothing more than to be discussed for what he was able to do on the court as opposed to the injury he suffered. Among the topics discussed in a story written by Thomas Lake of Sports Illustrated were the circumstances surrounding Ware’s decision to leave Louisville after redshirting in 2013-14.
Ware has another explanation for his departure: He was tired of being treated like damaged goods. Sometimes it felt as if the sight of the injury was more traumatic than the injury itself — as if his coaches and teammates never quite recovered from Ware’s broken leg. In practice, when he went up for a layup or a blocked shot, he could hear the nervous silence.
“It got annoying after a while,” he says, “and I just really wanted to come home.”
That’s certainly understandable, and the decision is just one part of the story told about a player who is an important contributor for a team looking to reach the NCAA tournament. On a team led by high-scoring seniors R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow, Ware’s averaging 8.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
Hunter and Harrow are undoubtedly going to receive a lot of attention from opposing teams, which makes Ware’s role of supplementary scoring option an important one as Lake writes in his story. Georgia State has won three of its last four games, and in all three wins Ware’s managed to score in double figures (he scored just two points in a loss at Appalachian State).
Similar to his stint at Louisville, it’s taken Ware some time to find his footing within Ron Hunter’s system. And if he can build upon his recent play, Ware could be instrumental in getting the Panthers to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2001.
Georgia State is fighting for a NCAA Tournament bid as a potential at-large team in a typically one-bid league, so the Panthers need all the help they can get this season. They won’t get any from freshman forward Jeff Thomas, as the Ohio native was ruled ineligible by the NCAA, according to a release from the school on Monday.
According to the release, Georgia State has gone through all appeals and considers the matter closed. The 6-foot-5 Thomas has yet to play in a game this season and won’t be able to help the team in 2014-15.
“We are obviously disappointed with the decision,” head coach Ron Hunter said in the release. “We will continue to support Jeff as he works toward his degree this year and look forward to him joining the team as a redshirt-freshman next year. We consider the matter closed and will continue to work on improving our team every day.”
As Hunter mentioned, Thomas does get to redshirt and will have four years of eligibility beginning next season. It certainly doesn’t help the Panthers this season, but Thomas staying an extra year gives them more insurance on the wing if R.J. Hunter opts to go pro after his junior year.