New coach might just bring the juice Bulldog program has lacked for years
When one thinks of the Georgia Bulldogs a few names immediately come to mind. Herschel Walker. Todd Gurley. A.J. Green. A few other football stars, too.
But what about basketball? Why aren’t names like Dominique Wilkins or Kentavious Caldwell-Pope mentioned more often? Georgia’s athletic department is far from one dimensional, and it’s time the men’s basketball program gets some love, too.
Basketball has always taken a backseat to football at Georgia, but that hasn’t stopped the program from finding success here and there. The Bulldogs have appeared 12 times in the NCAA tournament, most recently in 2015. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs have been subpar at best since then. Last season, Georgia finished a disappointing 18-15 overall and 7-11 in the SEC. But the program may have found new life on March 16, 2018.
On that day, Tom Crean, who was 356-231 as head coach for 18 seasons at Marquette and Indiana, was introduced as the new head coach, and he immediately caught the media’s attention with a passionate speech that could have convinced even the more level-headed of us to follow the madman into battle. He is electrifying, intense, and probably going to make the hoops action at Stegeman Coliseum a lot of fun.
“I want a team that talks on offense! Talks on defense! Talks through success! Talks through adversity! Because they have a belief in one another! There can be no weak points in your career or in your life!” Crean screamed.
Talk is one thing, but is Crean capable of delivering such success? He has before. As head coach at Marquette, Crean averaged 20 wins a year over nine seasons and even reached the NCAA Final Four in 2003, something Georgia has done only once–back in 1983.
That team was arguably the best to grace the program. Then-coach Hugh Durham, the most successful coach in Georgia history with 297 wins, and legendary guard Vern Fleming led the Bulldogs to a 24-10 overall record (9-9 in the SEC) and to a level of competition Georgia had never reached before and hasn’t since. The Bulldogs won one of their three SEC Tournament championships that year and advanced through the NCAA Tourney to the national semifinals before losing to an even bigger Cinderella story in Jim Valvano’s North Carolina State Wolfpack.
With Crean in charge, sights are already set for similar heights. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Though he does have some fine talent returning such as senior point guard William “Turtle” Jackson, the team’s top returning scorer at 8.4 points per game, and 6-foot-8 small forward, Rayshuan Hammonds, who averaged 6.9 ppg, the new coach may need some time to get his ducks in a row. However, adding new, elite players such as guard Ignas Sargiunas and forward JoJo Toppin, who are both expected to play a lot this season, may give the Bulldogs the edge they need.
The Bulldogs will certainly have opportunities to prove themselves against key non-conference opponents. Georgia will travel to Georgia Tech for their yearly game on Dec. 22, but will also get some stiff competition at home in Arizona State on Dec. 15 and Texas on Jan. 26.
Crean said there are challenges awaiting his team this season. “All in all, when you have a league with this many formidable teams you are going to be challenged every day to have the mental and physical toughness needed to compete,” Crean said. “Execution and staying connected on both ends will be tested, and we will need ‘the Steg’ to be at a fever pitch every time we step on the court.”
Football might make most of the noise in Georgia, but if anyone can bring the fever pitch to Stegeman Coliseum, it’s the fiery Crean. H&A
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Cover photo courtesy Georgia Athletics.