By Jackson Stone and Noah Monroe
Head Coach Tom Crean’s first season as the Georgia Bulldogs head coach fell below many people’s expectations as the team finished 11-21 and 13th in the SEC. Crean’s job this year will not be any easier with the loss of star sophomore Nicolas Claxton to the NBA Draft.
“Nic [Claxton] was unbelievable for us,” assistant coach Chad Dollar said. “It’s going to be a group effort for everyone to raise their level of play up and come together as one to replace him.”
Despite the loss of Claxton, the Dawgs bring in one of the top prospects in the country in Anthony Edwards. “Getting a guy of his caliber definitely upgrades our program from a national level and from a state level… It shows that the best players in the state of Georgia can stay in-state and play at their home schools such as the University of Georgia,” Dollar said. “We aren’t not going to do anything different from what we do with any other freshman but the publicity he brings and the excitement he brings is definitely something that will jumpstart our program.”
In addition to Edwards, the Dawgs have six other recruits coming in that help make up the 8th ranked recruiting class according to 24/7 Sports. This highly touted recruiting class has many Georgia fans excited for the upcoming season. However, Dollar knows there will still be a learning curve for the young talent. “They’re still high school kids,” said Dollar. “We’re taking their old habits and trying to build new habits and getting them adjusted to college, whether it’s on the basketball court or in the classroom… Summer is really a development stage.”
Under Coach Crean, the Dawgs take an unorthodox approach to many traditional basketball practices, which helps in many instances, such as when the NCAA recently announced it would be moving the college 3-point line back several inches. “We play with a four point line [in practice],” says Dollar. “That line is farther back to give us spacing, so the line being moved back won’t affect our offense at all; in some aspects, it will help us, because now it will open up even more and the defense will have to come out farther to guard us.”
The Dawgs have on their schedule a trip to Hawaii for the Maui Jim Maui Invitational, a tournament showcasing some of college basketball’s elite programs. “We are going to use Maui like any other tournament,” says Dollar. “Obviously it will be publicized more on ESPN, there will be more coverage, but we want to use Maui as a way to get exposure for our program, but also to help us get ready for SEC play which is always competitive.”
The high expectations surrounding the program after an excellent recruiting class are certainly exciting, but Dollar knows that the Dawgs can’t get too far ahead of themselves. “I would preach patience. Even though we do have a talented group of young men and we’re excited about them being here at the University of Georgia, they’re still young. Once these guys get older and mature, then you will see a great product.”
The fans hope to see the team mesh together quickly into the season and compete for the SEC Championship. The Dawgs start the season off in Atlanta against Georgia Tech on Nov. 20.