As the 2021-2022 NCAA Men’s Basketball season begins, eight of the most pivotal figures within the University of Georgia basketball program were selected as those individuals who will lead the program to greatness. Each brings unique talent, experience, and leadership qualities to a team shrouded in uncertainty following the departure of eight players from last season’s roster. Despite these losses, Head Coach Tom Crean has assembled an incredibly talented group to take the hardwood for the Dawgs, bringing aboard seasoned veterans, true freshmen oozing with potential, and everything in between.
Coming off a tenth place finish in the SEC, posting a 7-11 conference record during the 2020-2021 season, the team was ranked dead last in the preseason conference rankings due to the aforementioned roster turnover and chemistry concerns amongst so many fresh faces. The eight individuals highlighted below will lead the Hoop Dawgs to prove their critics wrong this season and exceed external expectations, as everyone inside the Bulldog locker room knows their team has a much higher ceiling than that for which they are given credit to this point. Here’s to the return to normalcy in college basketball in the wake of COVID and an exciting 2021-2022 UGA Basketball campaign.
- Tom Crean, Head Coach
Everyone who knows college basketball knows that, in a sport in which success is so reliant on both the continuous acquisition of new talent and execution of carefully constructed strategy, a program can go only as far as their coach can take them, which is why this list begins with Coach Tom Crean. Following 18 years of Head Coaching experience at historically great programs in Marquette and Indiana, Coach Crean enters his fourth season as Head Coach at UGA, who he hopes to elevate to the levels of success and recognition experienced at his former schools. After losing the majority of his roster from last season, Crean did an exceptional job recruiting talented players from both high school and other college programs to contribute in 2021. As the season progresses, Crean is tasked with facilitating the development of his new team’s chemistry and on-court identity. With so much prior experience, he should be very able get the most out of his group at the helm of a team with the potential to surprise many with their success.
2. Aaron Cook, Point Guard
As the starting Point Guard for Georgia this season, Aaron Cook will be responsible for setting the tempo in each game regarding the energy and intensity with which the team plays. As a graduate transfer from Gonzaga, Cook brings invaluable experience to the locker room, having endured the game at its highest level at his former school. A gifted passer and tenacious defender, Cook looks to pair his skillset with prior experience to serve as the primary leader for the team, leading by example both on and off the court in bringing his less experienced teammates up to the championship standard. Cook will likely lead the Dawgs in minutes played this season, as his exceptional ability to run Georgia’s offense and calming presence will help the team play at their best.
3. Jabri Abdur-Rahim, Small Forward
A transfer from the University of Virginia, sophomore Small Forward Jabri Abdur-Rahim was the most highly ranked prospect coming out of high school as a 4-Star and the 38th overall recruit in the Class of 2020. As the most talented wing scorer on the roster, Abdur-Rahim can alleviate offensive pressure through his isolation scoring with his smooth stroke and impressive skillset while operating in the mid-range. After a freshman campaign at Virginia in which he struggled to establish himself as a fixture of the Cavaliers’ rotation, Abdur-Rahim will look to regain his college basketball footing at UGA and demonstrate his incredible individual potential for the Dawgs this season.
4. Braelen Bridges, Center
Redshirt senior and UIC transfer Braelen Bridges, the tallest member of Georgia’s roster at 6’11”, will be a crucial paint presence for the team all season long. Bridges has been quite impressive with his low post production in the early part of the season, making efficient use of his touches while showcasing a refined arsenal of moves down low. In a loss to Cincinnati, he led all scorers with 24 points on 11-15 shooting, exhibiting his ability to carry the offensive load for the team when called upon to do so. If Bridges can provide consistent rebounding numbers as the team’s starting center to pair with his offensive skillset, his tremendous value will help the Dawgs contend with any team in the conference
5. Jaxon Etter, Shooting Guard
Junior shooting guard Jaxon Etter is the most senior non-transfer on Georgia’s roster and the only player with at least 2 years’ experience playing for Tom Crean. Etter’s presence as a leader on the court and in the locker room will be critical to instill the Bulldog culture in his teammates as the season unfolds. As one of the team’s best 3-Point shooters and most capable perimeter defenders, Etter will have a substantial role for the Dawgs this season as Coach Crean looks for him to elevate the intensity of each game while leading the team by example.
6. Kario Oquendo, Shooting Guard
A sophomore transfer from Florida Southwestern, Kario Oquendo looks to build on an incredible freshman season and prove himself on the Power 5 level. As a freshman, Oquendo earned First Team All-Southern Conference honors while scoring 15.3 points per game and shooting an astonishing 51.3% from 3-Point range during conference play. As one of the most athletic players on the roster with great speed and tremendous leaping ability, Oquendo will add a versatile offensive skillset to the Georgia team as he scores efficiently both getting to the basket or letting it fly from deep. Oquendo should find a very consistent role on the squad this year and can certainly serve as centerpiece around which Coach Crean can build his program moving forward.
7. P.J. Horne, Forward
As one of only two players to start all 26 games for the Bulldogs last season, PJ Horne’s importance to this team cannot be understated. Leading the team in made 3-Pointers with 46, Horne stretches the floor on the offensive end and opens up opportunities for his teammates who enjoy driving lanes created by defenders who are reluctant to leave Horne unattended. Horne, a graduate student and transfer from Virginia Tech, brings both NCAA tournament experience and an acute understanding of Tom Crean’s expectations to the Georgia locker room. He will undoubtedly serve as a primary leader of this team both on and off the court and will likely have an immediate positive impact on the floor upon returning from injury later this season.
8. Josh Brooks, Athletic Director
Since taking over as Georgia’s J. Reid Parker Director of Athletics, Josh Brooks has hit the ground running by implementing many positive changes to fans’ experiences at all Georgia venues. Recently, alcohol sales began at Stegeman Coliseum with no problems. Hopefully, Brooks will continue to find ways to make The Steg even more special for Hoops and the Gym Dogs. One thing is for sure, he will definitely be there rooting on the Dawgs with extreme passion. He might even give a referee his disapproval from time to time.