The University of Georgia men’s basketball team has already started its routine summer offseason work for more than a couple of weeks now. Last season for the Bulldogs didn’t yield the results that some would expect from a team with a coach of the stature of Tom Crean.
Coming into the year after posting a record of 11-21 and going 2-16 in SEC, play the stakes have risen higher for Crean in year two.
The roster for the Bulldogs will feature a host of new players -- nine in all -- and it will take these summer months of work to coalesce the team in time for fall.
“It hits us every day that we’ve got nine new players, Crean said. “And that’s a tough thing, but it’s also a good thing in the sense that there’s a lot of teaching and learning going on, there’s a lot of competitiveness coming out. We’ve got to have a really strong perspective with that. But at the same time, take this time to get them the demands that they’re going to need to go into this season."
Of all of the new players coming into the program, all eyes will be on five-star recruit, and Holy Spirit Preparatory (Georgia) High graduate Anthony Edwards.
Entering as a heavy one-and-done favorite, Edwards will immediately be tasked with leading Georgia into a program-shifting season for Crean's second squad.
The Atlanta native is already making a big impression in Athens with his rare athletic ability.
Crean says that Edwards’ vertical tests out at a more-than-impressive 42-inch vertical. His results on a bike sprint test – which tests how long it takes the rider to get to half-a-mile – showed he could complete the task in 50 seconds.
But it's his work ethic and skill on the court that is warranting the attention and early acclaim he’s receiving.
“We got to get [Anthony] better every day,” Crean said. “He’s got so much natural talent, so much natural strength, and ability, but at the same time there’s a lot to learn, there’s a lot to improve upon, there’s a lot of habits to create. But he’s doing a good job. He’s competitive, and he works very hard to get the gym on his own a lot. He’s diligent.
“So where it goes, I mean, this is why these eight weeks are so important to the progress of your team. Because if you don't -- you've got the season coming up -- and you've got to make a ton of progress and show a lot of improvement in your players skill wise, especially fundamental wise in the summer. So that's where is the process of with him. And I think as long as he really keeps that up, we’ll stay on a good path with him.”
• June’s NBA draft saw the Brooklyn Nets take Georgia’s leading scorer Nick Claxton with the 31st overall pick. As a sophomore Claxton averaged 13 points, 8.6 assists and 2.5 blocks in 31 minutes per game. Crean spoke about what he expects of Claxton at the next level with reporters.
“I thought he could improve leaps and bounds if we helped him unlock the potential of mentally what he could do, and then hold and then holding him to it,” Crean said. And when you take over programs don't know the level of work ethic and work capacity that somebody has. So it's your job to push them, and that's exactly what we did with him over a period of time. And he responded to that. And he got better and better with his practice habits got better and better with his intensity got better, better with his skills, and he matured a lot.
“And that's what I said that I think Brooklyn, whoever was going to get him -- and I'm very, very happy that Brooklyn got him -- because one of the biggest things to me, For him, because we only had him for one year. And I knew what path he could be on with another year with us. If you go to a real strong player development program, and I think that's exactly -- Brooklyn is on the rise and on the upswing for a lot of reasons and -- player development is in the first sentence on that.”
• Crean gave his thoughts on his recruiting pedigree and the ways that will shape his time at Georgia going forward.
“Well, the one thing we saw the last three recruiting dates that we had at Indiana, all started at different times in the NBA this year with Cody Zeller, who starts every time he's not injured,” Crean said. “This past year, Thomas Bryant, who started once Dwight Howard went down, and Noah Vonleh who started a lot of time with the Knicks. “So the key to those guys was the development of their skills, not just playing in this a certain position. And I think the moment you know, we started to train Nick as a guard the way that we did with so many other guys.
“I knew that we were speeding up the process for the NBA to have an interest in him. But that's our responsibility, our responsibility to give these guys every opportunity to chase their dreams and I'm very proud of that he's the 14th guy that we will have coached now that's in the NBA and the first guy at Georgia.”