My first up-close impression of Georgia’s new head basketball coach, Tom Crean?
It’s the same as when I watched Crean’s introductory press conference on the UGA athletic website a couple of weeks ago.
Energetic, outgoing, loaded with enthusiasm, an apparent sterling work ethic and a tunnel focus to take the Bulldogs’ basketball program to a level of play it hasn’t experienced since the early 1980s when Hugh Durham guided Georgia to its only Final Four appearance.
I mean, you ask this guy a question and he dissects that question so thoroughly that when he’s finished his answer, you almost have forgotten what question you asked him in the first place.
For instance at Crean’s meeting with the media Tuesday afternoon, I asked him about his timetable of finalizing his assistant staff … after Crean this past week hired Chad Dollar as the first member of his new staff.
Here is how Crean answered my question:
“The one thing you don’t realize you’ve grown until you get in a situation. And for me being in there, this being the third time I’ve taken over a program (previous head coaching stints at Marquette and Indiana) I think you really start to learn about what’s urgent, what’s most important and has to be done on a daily basis. You have a plan, a vision. And certainly we’ll tweak it but the bottom line that the most important thing no matter what was to get acclimated with this group on the court … get going in the recruiting, be in the places that we need to be and meet the people. I’d love for you guys to come see us work out, which is not legal to do right now, this time of year. But I’d love for that to happen. Mike (Mobley) and I looked into that. But the most important thing is getting them right and I’ll say this because I’m sure somebody is going to ask.
“With Jonas Hayes (former UGA assistant under Mark Fox who just assumed an assistant job at Xavier) the first couple of weeks here, I’d never met him before the Friday and I had only met him for three minutes the day I got here. But from that Monday on we were together and awful lot, including this morning. And he has helped me immensely get acclimated in this area. And for that I’ll always be grateful. Because we hit the ground running in the basketball, we hit the ground running in the recruiting and obviously when you’re the Georgia head coach, doors are going to open but Jonas certainly helped open them and helped bridge some of those gaps in relationships. And we would have loved to have him stay, there’s no question about it, but I totally get where he’s at in this and wanting to have something for his growth. And I think he’s going to be a head coach. It doesn’t matter would I liked to have helped him grow into it from here? Absolutely, but he’s going to grow into that. That’s what his capabilities are and as much as I had liked to have him stay I do totally understand that he wants to step out into another area and into another part of the country and another league and take those next steps. And I’m going to be a fan and as we turn this program to where it can go, he’s going to deserve as much credit as anybody else in helping. But with that being said, we’ve really tried to hit the ground running every day with what we can cover.”
What an answer to my simple question about hiring his new assistant coaches. And you notice that Crean pretty well skirted all around in his response, not directly mentioning the direction he’s going into shaping his new staff but rather, talking of his acclimation after assuming the Georgia basketball reins and making a point of dishing out praise for highly-regarded and the outgoing Hayes.
Over his nearly 30-minute question-and-answer session, Crean said plenty that should stoke even the most pessimistic Georgia basketball fan, such as:
**** That Tuesday’s workout with his new team is the 13th since he accepted the job and he’s pleased with the way the Bulldogs are absorbing his teaching, perfecting the fundamentals and adding new elements to their game each day. At the moment, Crean says he has 10 scholarship players and two walk-ons working out.
**** That new assistant Chad Dollar is an excellent addition to the staff. He’s played the game, coached it, is a vigorous recruiter and will mesh perfectly with what Crean is looking for in shaping his new UGA assistant staff.
**** That it’s an absolutely must that the Bulldogs improve their shooting percentage next season. “Right now, we can’t do anything about the shooting percentage. We can do something about the the technique, the footwork, the follow-through, the spacing, all those different things. And they’re learning new things and we’re looking at every player. There’s certain things that have worked for us in leading the BCS schools over those nine years at Indiana in 3-point percentage. There’s certain things that work, leading the Big Ten in scoring over a six-year period of time. So there’s things that really work but have to be individually tailored for the player. But these guys are going to get better shooting the ball.”
**** That every player on the team is working on shooting the 3-pointers, including rugged inside 6-8 rebounder Derek Ogbeide.
**** That Georgia’s guards must handle the ball better. “The first thing is you’ve got to teach them to get the ball out in front of them. And first off, we don’t teach dribbling as much as we teach driving. You want to drive the ball which is a combination of a lot of things. Is your shoulder dropping, is your foot turning, is your hip turning, the ball getting out in front, is your eye staying lifted. The big thing is pounding that ball. I always taught guys to pound that ball like you’re pounding it 10 feet in the ground. Now that doesn’t mean over-dribble, over-pounding but get it out in front.”
After Crean adeptly handled all the questions, Georgia players Nicolas Claxton and Tyree Crump were brought in for interviews. Prior to that though, I was most impressed that the new head coach went through the room shaking hands with every media person present, before he made his exit.
“Both Claxton, the 6-11 sophomore forward, and Crump, the 6-1 rising junior guard seemed ecstatic over their new head coach and what different techniques he’s brought to the team in such a short time.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun with us being able to play a different style of basketball,” said Claxton, “play up-tempo and use all our abilities. We’ve been working extremely hard in the weight room and just the workouts from last year, it’s been a lot different. Just everybody handling the ball and using our versatility. I like Coach Crean a lot,” said Claxton. “He’s very enthusiastic and energetic and he gets the best out of his players, gets us going. It is radically different (as opposed to the previous staff). It’s more just playing basketball and having a feel for the game.”
“It’s way different,” said Crump. “It’s very intense. You learn something every day. Not saying you didn’t learn that under Coach Fox, but offense, you learn something every day. I learn something new every day that I didn’t know I had in my game,” he said. “For instance I didn’t know I could get from half court to the basket in two dribbles. So you learn something new every day and that’s great … I need that in my game.”
It’s true that Bulldawg Nation is chomping at the bit to witness Kirby Smart’s third Georgia football team this fall – especially after the 2017 Bulldogs won the SEC championship, conquered Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl before coming within one play of beating Alabama in the national championship game – but with the optimism Tom Crean is already building in the heretofore struggling UGA basketball program, many are also expecting Stegeman Coliseum to be rocking when Crean’s first Bulldog hoopsters take to the court this coming winter.