“Never hang your hat on Georgia basketball.”
I’ve said those words many times to those who have engaged me in a conversation about University of Georgia men’s basketball. I’ve never been one to run the program down, but I’ve always discouraged anyone from making an emotional investment in the team. History shows that in brief flashes of hope, you will be disappointed if you let your hopes get too high.
Tom Crean is the latest coach attempting to change the perception of those like me. Crean arrived at Georgia last season with a nice resume` at basketball schools Marquette and Indiana and he let it be known that he would bring Georgia basketball into the 21st century. Job one would be to overcome the indifference toward basketball that exists within the school and athletic administration, not to mention the entire state population.
Job two would be to recruit players that could compete at the highest level and perhaps entertain the crowd along the way. Previous Georgia coaches, either through personal disdain or administrative pressure, shied away from recruiting in the AAU, shoe-company sponsored underworld of youth basketball where colleges go to find the “one-and-done” future NBA lottery picks that could singlehandedly put a program on the basketball map.
Crean has staked his future at Georgia by eschewing the old-fashioned way because it never worked. He somehow landed a recruit by the name of Anthony “AntMan” Edwards from Atlanta who the experts rate as a sure-fire Top-3 selection in the 2020 NBA draft. Yes, that means that Georgia has joined bluebloods Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina in the hypocrisy of pretending that college basketball is about offering an education.
To see Edwards play is to believe the experts. Georgia has had a few future NBA stalwarts over the years, but this 18-year-old kid has superstar written all over him. He could well develop into the Lebron James mold. The 6’5” Edwards has a strong, quick body and plays under control, both away from the basket and on the dribble, and he is perhaps too unselfish. He perfectly fits Crean’s up-and-down the court, fast-tempo style of play.
Through eight games, the AntMan averages 20.6 points per game. He went off for 37 points against Michigan State, 33 in the second half. He also rebounds, passes and blocks shots. He seems to start games overly eager to involve his teammates but once he gets going, look out. Georgia has never had a basketball talent like this since Dominique Wilkins.
Crean convinced Edwards to come to Georgia by selling him on playing close to home for his one season of college ball. As I watch him play, his enthusiasm for his teammates and the game is contagious. He excites even me and the larger crowds that are finally turning out at Stegeman Coliseum. The team is 6-2 so far but the competition will get tougher.
If you like basketball and specifically basketball players, I encourage you to go to Athens to see the AntMan play, he won’t be there long. The next home game is on Dec. 20 against SMU. Enjoy him while you can but don’t forget, never hang your hat!
Gene Walker is a retired educator who lives in Thomson. His column, “Sports Talk,” appears in the weekly editions of The McDuffie Progress. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.