The Georgia Bulldogs’ 2020-21 roster will feature six returning letterwinners meshing with eight newcomers.
Junior Tye Fagan and returning sophomore starters Toumani Camara and Sahvir Wheeler lead the Bulldogs who are back…along with sophomores Christian Brown, Jaykwon Walton and Jaxon Etter.
Georgia’s newcomers provide a mix of experience and youth, with three graduate transfers, two juniors, a sophomore and two freshmen joining the fold. Andrew Garcia, P.J. Horne and Justin Kier will join the Bulldogs for a single season of eligibility. A trio of junior college transfers includes juniors Jonathan Ned and Mikal Starks and sophomore Tyron McMillan. Peach State natives K.D. Johnson and Josh Taylor comprise UGA’s freshman class.
“I like their camaraderie” head coach Tom Crean said. “We’re working very hard. There’s guys – because they gym is loosening up a bit and they can be in there a little more as long as we clean the gym and clean the basketballs – who are in there at different times, whether it’s later at night or early in the morning. There are guys who are very, very hungry. In addition to all that, they’re doing a good job in the weight room. They’re doing a good job when we work out outside. They’re pushing each other. They’re competing.
“There is a spirit about them, and they’re improving. A lot of new guys are learning to come together in a very, very different situation, and that’s what we’re focused on, bridging that every day. Our staff is concentrating on ‘How do we get the most out of this day.’ That’s what we’re trying to do. If that sounds a little cliché or corny, it is what it is.”
Fagan is the most veteran Bulldog, seeing action in all but one game during Crean’s two seasons in Athens. A year ago, he posted a trio of double-digit scoring outputs in extremely efficient fashion. The Logtown, Ga., native shot 81.0 percent (17-of-21) from the field en route to reaching double figures against Dayton, Arizona State and at Kentucky.
Camara moved into Georgia’s starting lineup for the ninth game of the season and remained there throughout the remainder of the campaign. He saw a considerable uptick in his production thereafter, going from 4.6 ppg, 3.3 rpg and 16.0 mpg off the bench to 7.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg and 27.0 mpg when getting the nod.
Wheeler secured his place in the Bulldogs’ record books during his initial season at UGA. The Harlem native, who later moved to Houston, distributed a Georgia freshman record 139 assists on the year. That tally also ranks No. 14 among UGA’s all-time single-season leaders. Wheeler finished the season ranked fourth in the SEC in assists (4.5 apg) and sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.5).
Brown, Walton and Etter will look to up their contributions from a year ago. Brown and Walton both were consensus top-100 recruits in the class of 2019, ranking No. 64 and 69, respectively, by ESPN.com. Brown logged double-digit minutes in nine SEC outings and flirted with a double-double (11 points and eight boards) in early-season action against N.C. Central. Walton’s season was hindered by injury and illness, limiting him to seven games played. Etter, a walk-on, was a two-time All-State performer at Etowah High School who veteran players consistently compliment for his vision of the game.
Georgia’s graduate transfers have already enjoyed strong collegiate careers. Garcia was named the America East Conference’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2019 and earned second-team All-America East honors in 2020. He averaged 10.1 ppg in 77 outings with the Seawolves. Horne, a Tifton, Ga., native returning home to play for his state school, helped Virginia Tech earn NCAA Tournament bids in both 2018 and 2019. He started 30 of 32 games for the Hokies last season, averaging 7.6 ppg and 4.2 rpg. Kier missed the majority of last season with a stress fracture in his right foot. Two seasons ago, he was one of only 11 Division I players to average more than 14.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game.
Each of Georgia’s junior college recruits were ranked among the top-15 prospects nationally by 247Sports.com, with Starks at No. 9, McMillan at No. 11 and Ned at No. 15. Ned and Starks come from dramatically different hometowns but the same junior college – Eastern Florida State. Ned is from Northern California, while Starks hails from South Florida. Together, they helped EFSC’s Titans win 55 games over two seasons and reach the “Elite Eight” round of the 2019 NJCAA Tournament. McMillan, who played AAU basketball with Sahvir Wheeler, earned All-Region honors in his one season at Kilgore College in Texas after averaging 10.4 ppg and 5.7 rpg.
Johnson, who is consensus top-100 prospect, was the 2019 Georgia Class 5A Player of the Year at Southwest DeKalb High in Decatur before playing at Hargrave Military Academy last season. He averaged 26.2 ppg and 7.4 apg during the 2019-20 season while helping Hargrave to a 27-4 finish. Taylor’s prep career included two seasons at Columbia High in Decatur, Ga., a year at Greensboro (N.C.) Day School and a senior campaign at Norcross High. Last season, he was one of only three players among Gwinnett County’s 24 high schools to average a double-double (11.7 ppg and 10.7 rpg).
A Summer Unlike Any Other
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the Bulldogs’ season to end prematurely on March 12 and began a period where Tom Crean was away from on-court coaching for more than four months. Georgia returned to workouts on July 20 as the Bulldogs’ staff began meshing together six returnees and eight newcomers.
“The only guy will a full year of college basketball with us in the program is Tye Fagan,” Crean said. “That’s tough. That’s really tough because the kids who are sophomores didn’t get the full spring. And when the three grad transfers and Tyron McMillan got to campus, that was the first time we’d personally met them and talked to them not on phone, FaceTime or zoom.
“There was nothing normal about this summer,” Crean added. “There was nothing even remotely close to normal as to how you would build your team.”
Dogs Speak On Social Issues
In addition to the pandemic, social issues dominated the landscape for much of the summer. Several Georgia basketball players, led by Tye Fagan and Sahvir Wheeler, chose to utilize their platform and voice to speak toward needed changes to create a better and more respectful society in general.
Fagan took part in a march in Thomaston, Ga., where he led Upson-Lee High School to back-to-back state titles in 2017 and 2018.
“It’s bigger than basketball, it’s bigger than me,” Fagan said. “A lot of people have lost their lives, a lot of people are upset. A lot of my people are upset and they feel a lot of different ways. I can’t blame them because I feel the same way, seeing guys suffer from police brutality or racism or bigotry or whatever you want to call it. Black people have been suffering a lot over the past few months. It’s been going on forever but especially over the past few months.”
Wheeler took part in a lengthy interview with DawgNation.com discussing a wide variety of subjects.
“One of the most important things is this is a time when the country has to pivot, and it has put a magnifying glass on our actions, our deeds and our approach with others in relationships in general,” Wheeler said. “It has come to question ourselves: What are we willing to tolerate? What is the catalyst of change? How are we looking upon other people from different walks of life, and how we can take a step forward in progression so everyone can be equal?”
UGA Better In Tight Games
Georgia was 5-3 in contests decided by four points or less last season.
That was a dramatic difference from Tom Crean’s first campaign in Athens when the Bulldogs were an excruciating 0-6 in such outings, with all six setbacks coming to NCAA Tournament teams.
Georgia’s non-conference effort in 2018-19 featured four- and two-point setbacks to Temple (81-77) and Arizona State (76-64), respectively. The Bulldogs also dropped four consecutive painful late-season losses by a combined nine points to LSU (83-79), Mississippi State (68-67), Ole Miss (72-71) and Auburn (78-75).
During non-conference play in 2019-20, Georgia reeled off a quartet of tight wins over Georgia Tech (72-68), Chaminade (80-77), SMU (87-85) and No. 9 Memphis (65-62) before suffering a pair of close setbacks against Missouri (72-69) and Alabama (105-102). The Bulldogs earned their fifth victory by four or fewer points at Vanderbilt (80-78), but then dropped a 94-90 overtime decision at South Carolina in their next outing.
Wheeler Tops Assist Mark
Sahvir Wheeler wrapped up his freshman season by equaling his career high with eight assists against Ole Miss at the SEC Tournament. In the process, he also broke Georgia’s freshman assists record.
Wheeler distributed 139 passes-to-points during the 2019-20 campaign, breaking the previous mark by Litterial Green during the 1988-89 campaign as outlined below. That tally also tied Willie Anderson for the 14th-most ever by a Bulldog in a single season.
UGA’s Top-5 Freshman Assist Totals
Rk. Player, Season Asts.
1. Sahvir Wheeler, 2019-20 139
2. Litterial Green, 1988-89 133
3. Dustin Ware, 2008-09 108
4. Moses White, 1999-2000 105
5. Rashad Wright, 2000-01 103