By Gabriel Stovall
JONESBORO, Ga. — The secret is now out. Austin Donaldson is a Georgia State Panther.
Just 10 days after getting a release from his letter of intent to Chattanooga, and after one workout with his high school teammates with 21 coaches — many from Division I programs — the all-state point guard from Jonesboro has ended his recruitment again — this time for good.
Donaldson, who guided the Cardinals to back-to-back Class AAAA championships during his junior and senior seasons, picked the Panthers over Tennessee, citing a great relationship with the Panther coaches as the deciding factor.
“I really like how the coaches seemed to be interested and were showing me a lot of attention,” Donaldson said. “They were one of the first schools that got on to me after I got released from Chattanooga, so that was like a big red flag letting me know that they were interested.”
The interest was definitely mutual.
On the day Donaldson re-opened his recruitment, he stated that there was already a school he had in mind that he wanted to play for if everything turned out right.
Turns out it was Georgia State, the 2014-15 Sun Belt Conference champs, and national media darlings which advanced to the third round after upsetting Baylor in a game where coach Ron Hunter — donning a cast around his leg — famously fell off his stool when his son R.J. hit a buzzer beater three-pointer to beat the Bears.
The elder Hunter was one of the coaches present at last Wednesday’s Jonesboro-hosted workout session. Donaldson, who said he picked up about a half dozen offers after that session, didn’t get the chance to talk with Hunter then, but was officially wooed when he went on a visit to the downtown Atlanta school Monday.
“GSU brought me in and I just really, really enjoyed everything about it,” Donaldson said. “Tennessee wanted to bring me in too, but with the new coaching staff coming in, they said it wouldn’t be until about a month. And I just didn’t like that time frame. I didn’t want to wait that long, and so I knew it was going to be GSU, especially after I prayed about it, I had made up my mind.”
Donaldson will join former Southern Crescent players Isaiah Dennis and Jordan Session at Georgia State. Dennis and Session, standouts on the 2012-13 Class AAAA championship squad, were high school rivals. Now, Donaldson is pumped up about calling them college teammates.
“I’m definitely excited, especially with them and the new transfer we’ve got coming in from Alabama, his name is Devin Mitchell,” Donaldson said. “My friend Malik goes to a school up north, and he’s coming down, and I’ve got just a lot of friends and people I know (that attend Georgia State). That was big to me too, to be able to have a Division I school and all the fans and friends and family you know right at home with you.”
Donaldson was gracious to his high school coach Dan Maehlman for “putting his name out there for me, and doing so much to help me get a scholarship.” And Maehlman said it was worth it to be able to see Donaldson with a smile on his face after a difficult recruiting situation.
“You can just tell that Austin’s really excited,” Maehlman said. “The whole process, just I’ve never been involved in anything like that where when a coach leaves and everybody tries to recruit your guy all over again. It was pretty crazy hectic. We had some good people come in at the end, but not a whole lot of time to do a bunch of visits and all that.”
Maehlman thinks it’s just as well, since his senior point guard seems to have landed it in an ideal situation.
“It just feels good for me to see him back somewhere where it’s a good spot and really close to home and at a school that really wants him,” he said. “I think Austin will have a chance to go down to Georgia State and really become a man there.”
And while Maehlman said he enjoys helping his kids get through the recruiting process, Donaldson said he’s relieved that it’s finally over for good. Now with graduation less than a month away, Donaldson said he’s ready to shift gears in full out preparation for college.
“It feels phenomenal to get this over with,” he said. “It’s just a blessing to be in this predicament. Coming out of a scholarship to a good school and then getting to an even better school that went to a Sweet 16. You can’t really ask for much more than that. Like I always say, God doesn’t make any mistakes, and everything happens for a reason.”