Editor's Note: On April 9, 2012, Georgia State was officially invited to join the Sun Belt Conference and compete for 14 league titles starting July 1, 2013. This is the third of a seven-part series looking at the Panthers' move into the Sun Belt, including an historical look back, a peek around  the conference as a whole, as well as sport-specific information about GSU's upcoming league opponents.


As the Sun Belt Conference opened a new era by adding three teams as full members for 2013-14, it unveiled a new mantra: Together we rise. That phrase could be easily applied across Georgia State's athletic department when it comes to talking about the young talent the Panthers return starting this fall.

Despite playing across two conferences last year, GSU claimed eight all-rookie team honors (Eliza Zachary, court volleyball; R.J. Hunter, men's basketball; Jonathan Grey, men's golf; Josh Merrigan, baseball; Matt Rose, baseball; Joey Roach, baseball; Katie Worley, softball; Taylor Anderson, softball) and 16 rookie-of-the-week accolades among the 14 sports that will compete for Sun Belt titles this coming season.

Leading the way was a trio of talented newcomers who put up numbers rarely reached by freshmen in Atlanta as they were named their league's rookie of the year.

Hunter pushed the men's basketball team to a top-five finish in its final season in the Colonial Athletic Association. He was one of just three freshmen in the country to average at least 17.0 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, joining: Anthony Bennett of UNLV, who went No. 1 in the 2013 NBA Draft, and Shabazz Muhammad of UCLA, the No. 14 pick in the draft.

Original Sun Belt Members Video
Today's Sun Belt Members Video
GSU's Youth Movement Heads to the SBC July 3
Introducing SBC Football July 8
Introducing SBC Men's and Women's Basketball July 9
Introducing SBC Baseball and Softball July 10
Introducing SBC Olympic Sports July 11

Hunter finished his campaign as a freshman All-American and earned All-CAA First Team and All-CAA Rookie Team honors. He was the first freshman in the league to be named to the first team since 2001.

Along with Hunter, Merrigan quickly made noise for the Panther baseball team as he earned freshman All-America honors from two national publications, joining teammate Matt Rose on the Louisville Slugger Freshman All-America squad. Merrigan was the first Panther in program history to be named the league's rookie of the year as he finished the season hitting .353, the top average by a freshman in school history. Merrigan's strong bat helped GSU finish third in the nation in batting average and fourth in runs scored as the Panthers posted 35 wins.

Grey can give Hunter and Merrigan a little nudge in the right direction when it comes to getting ready for Sun Belt play. Grey, a native of Kent, England, helped the GSU men's golf team to a second-place finish in the 2013 Sun Belt Championship while earning honorable-mention All-America status. He was a two-time golfer of the month and was a first-team All-Sun Belt selection as a freshman.

Longtime voice of the Panthers Dave Cohen caught up with the three talented Panthers in June for a rookie roundtable. Watch the video to see how they viewed their first year as a Panther, what their expecations are for the future and how together, they will rise to lead Georgia State's young corps of talent into its next chapter.

R.J. Hunter | Men's Basketball
Kyle Macy Freshman All-America Team
CAA Rookie of the Year, All-CAA First Team, All-CAA Rookie Team
CAA Player of the Week (Feb. 2) and Six-time CAA Rookie of the Week
Lou Henson National Player of the Week (Feb. 2)
GSU freshman scoring record of 527 points
Jonathan Grey | Men's Golf 
PING All-America Honorable Mention
PING Freshman All-American (only five players honored)
Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year and All-Sun Belt First Team
Tied for sixth at the NCAA Baton Rouge Regional, the second-highest regional finish by a Panther in school history
Finished the year with 12 top-25 finishes in 13 events
 Josh Merrigan | Baseball
Freshman All-American by Louisville Slugger/Collegiate Baseball and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA)
Colonial Athletic Association Rookie of the Year
All-CAA Second Team
Fifth among all freshmen in the nation in batting average and runs per game
Shattered the GSU freshman records for batting average (.353), hits (84) and runs (52)