ATLANTA — Rod Barnes says he isn’t sure Georgia State is ready for the three-game test it faces in the NABC Classic which begins Friday in Minneapolis, but he adds he’s eager to learn the answer.
Barnes enters his second season as Georgia State’s coach with a dramatic boost in depth, thanks to five Division I transfers, including two from his former Ole Miss team.
Georgia State was only 9-21 overall last season, including 5-13 in the Colonial Athletic Association. Leading scorer Leonard Mendez had too little help last season, but now there are so many new faces the biggest challenge for Barnes may be finding the right mix.
The Panthers open Friday against Bowling Green and also will play Concordia-St. Paul and Minnesota in the three-day tournament.
“Obviously when you’ve got so many new guys, you’re trying to work through some kinks,” Barnes said Wednesday. “You’re trying to get the chemistry right. I think we’re getting there.
“I’d say we’re probably ready to play from the standpoint we need to play other people, we need to find out where we are. Do I feel comfortable right now? I would say I don’t.”
Barnes stuck with the same five starters in two shaky exhibition wins. The Panthers beat Oglethorpe 85-80 as freshman backup point guard James Fields had 17 points and Mendez added 16. Georgia State beat Clark-Atlanta 66-61 last Thursday as Xavier Hansbro, one of the two transfers from Ole Miss, had 14 points.
“I am excited because I think this team has great upside,” Barnes said. “We didn’t play well in our exhibition games, so I am concerned about going into a three-game tournament, but we’ll find out a lot about ourselves.”
Forward Trey Hampton is the other Ole Miss transfer expected to start against Bowling Green. Guard Joe Dukes, a transfer from Wake Forest, joins Hampton, Hansbro, Mendez and senior forward Rashad Chase in the lineup.
Barnes has more new help from junior college transfer Chris Echols and South Florida transfer Dante Curry, a wing player who becomes eligible in December.
Barnes said Curry “has practiced as if he can break the starting lineup.”
“We’re so much deeper,” Barnes said. “Not only are we deeper, the depth we have is quality depth. Guys in those positions have won those positions, but that’s only to this date. We have other guys right there breathing down their necks.”
The 6-foot-5 Mendez averaged 16 points per game last season to rank fifth in the CAA. Chase was fifth in the league with his average of 7.6 rebounds.
Mendez, who took only four shots from the field in 29 minutes against Clark-Atlanta, will have more scoring help this season, but Barnes said he still expects the senior to be the top scorer.
“I am trying to keep him at that pace because I think even with our other guys, he is the guy from a scoring standpoint who can still put up big numbers,” Barnes said.
“Last year we stretched him by making him the go-to guy. Hopefully we can keep him like that.”
Barnes has installed a more up-tempo style with a pressing defense.
“I think it’s a more exciting brand of basketball,” Barnes said. “In our recruiting here, when the prospects start to see where Georgia State is getting up and down the floor, I think it fits our region.
“That’s why I took a lot of transfers. I knew it would take some time to build relationships in the high schools, and we want to go after the best ones. Now if we can get to the floor and win some games it will help.”
Notes: James Vincent, a 6-foot-10 forward-center from Northside High in Columbus, signed a letter of intent with Georgia State on Wednesday, the first day of the early signing period.