UGA Men’s Basketball: Tom Crean Interview – October 17, 2019

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UGA Men’s Basketball: Tom Crean Interview – October 17, 2019

UGA men's basketball Head Coach Tom Crean at Stegmania II, 
Friday, October 11, 2019
UGA men’s basketball Head Coach Tom Crean at Stegmania II,
Friday, October 11, 2019

On Thursday afternoon, UGA men’s basketball Head Coach Tom Crean discusses the Bulldogs exhibition game versus Valdosta State, which is scheduled for a 7:00 p.m. tipoff on Friday evening at the Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, GA. Coach Crean also talks about Georgia’s upcoming 2019-2020 season.

“I think we’re excited to play. I know I am,” said Tom Crean about Friday evening’s exhibition game versus Valdosta State. “Your stomach starts to feel a little different, like right now, getting ready for a game. It doesn’t matter who it is. I mean, that means that competition with somebody else is here. That’s how I feel.”

The 2019-20 UGA men’s basketball team is a young one that includes nine freshmen and a graduate transfer.

“There’s no question it’s a huge challenge, you know rebuilding a program, refurbishing; however, you want to look at it,” said Coach Crean. “That’s a challenge, but we’ve got to take it as an opportunity. That’s how I view it. So there’s an opportunity to grow a lot of guys. I look at it as a great opportunity, and I’m enjoying it. I think they are, too. But every day is a great learning experience for them and for us.”

And that young Hoop’s Dawg team will face a solid FCS opponent in Valdosta State.

“These guys are efficient,” . “They were phenomenal at point efficiency last year had a very very good season. They play very fast on offense. They have a myriad of plays inside of their playbook. They lost some really good guards, but they’ve also added some good guards. Clay (Guillozet) is back, and I think he can really play. They’re very good and very adept at drawing fouls, which is scary for such a young team like this, because we’re trying to learn how to play hard.”

Opening Statement…

“I think we’re excited to play. I know I am. Your stomach starts to feel a little different, like right now, getting ready for a game. It doesn’t matter who it is. That means that competition with somebody else’s here. That’s how I feel. I think right now is we’re spending so much time trying to learn what it takes to play and and how we want to play versus exactly what’s going to be most efficient for us. We’re really trying to find what our identity is going to be. We know what we’re working on. I know what we’re behind on and I know how far we’re behind. Those different situations, they don’t (know) because they’re spending a lot of time trying to figure out. You know how to get through each practice, how to become more efficient, become more effective, how to play with one another. The one thing that we’re really really behind on is how much we play how much we scrimmage because we’ve really needed to get an understanding of spacing. We’ve really really worked hard on our footwork. I hope it starts to show up. I think we’ve worked hard on our bonding and driving, but I’m usually afraid that tomorrow night with a team like this with Valdosta State that was fifth in the country in Division II last year in point efficiency, that it could be a track meet. We just don’t want to be a turnover fest. That’s what we’ve got to work through because there’s no way we can turn the ball over the way we did last year and have success. But we can’t miss open shots like we did either so those are the kind of things we’ve got a brace for down the road. Right now, we’ve got to learn what it takes to play with one another, how to string possessions together, play through fatigue, try to eliminate as much trying to make something happen that’s not there, and try to make the next pass, try to make the next play try to make the right play, try to get that understanding, and knowing that we’re behind in a lot of that situational basketball. I’m glad we have a couple of weeks before we start our regular season, but, glad to have an opportunity to play. These guys are efficient. Like I said, they were phenomenal and point efficiency last year had a very very good season, play very fast on offense. I don’t know all the things that don’t have and they have a myriad of plays inside of their playbook. They lost some really good guards but they’ve also added some good guards and Clay [Guillozet] is back, and I think he can really play. They’re very good and very adept at drawing fouls, which is scary for such a young team like this, because we’re trying to learn how to play hard. If there’s one thing we haven’t done either we haven’t brought the referees in as early because we’re trying to learn how to compete and play. We’re not trying to learn how to foul, but we’re trying to learn how to play through physicality, compete and keep going. So, we’re going to be at the mercy of how good our coaches and [Graduate Assistants] have been officiating practice.”

On how many rotations he likes to see in exhibitions…

“I’m not sure. I’m not sure again who’s going to start. You know we have 15 guys. It could be hard to do that. I’m not sure. Some of that is going to go on for you inside of the game, you know, I’ll break up the groups. I’ve been doing a lot of three five-man groups, and the majority of the stuff that we’ve done except with the exception of when we scrimmage. Today (in practice), I’ll mix the teams up all together again. The one thing that we’re trying to do – because I know if we don’t start to do it, we’re going to get real behind on it – and it’s part of why we’ve recruited these guys is to really get a level of versatility with them. We try to put them in different situations. We have what we call our leopard offense, and our leopard offenses basically they’re – the leopard changes at spots right – like we’re a spot team. It’s not: ‘You’re the ‘5’ man. You’re the ’2’ man.’ It’s ‘You’re in the ‘2’ spot. You’re in the ‘5’ spot.’ The point guard is a little bit different, but other than that, It’s very much spot oriented We’re trying to teach guys, and the concept of offense and a lot of different places to be over the last week, week and a half. For the majority of our time, we’ve been trying to learn how to play, how to play in space and how to cut, move without the ball, not let the ball stick and an area, and really, really get guys – because it doesn’t matter how many new players you have moving without the ball – moving the ball in a timely fashion. We want them on time and on target with your passing and be ready to shoo. Those things take time. Now add the fact that we have nine freshmen, and in a newcomer, (grad transfer) Donell Greshman was pretty adept at those things, but we have nine freshmen, that have to learn how to do that. And so, combination wise, I’m not sure it’s going to be a lot of, let’s see how it’s going.” 

On “leopard-style” offense… 

“It’s not an offense. I call it an offense but it’s really more that you’re just in different spots. It’s you can come down and say okay you’re at the ‘3’ spot and you’re at the ‘4’ spot. I want to start teaching that because I want them to get the idea you’ve gotta gotta move around. It’s not just well I’m a point guard or I’m a ‘2’ man. You know we’re not a position team so for us so much of it is, especially with young guys is really getting that versatility down so that we can call it on the fly eventually. Now, we hope we can (just) come out of a timeout some time over the next two weeks if not tomorrow, hopefully by next week in Charlotte. The majority of our time has been playing a lot of position less basketball, so that they get comfortable on the floor and we’ll probably have less plays than I would have hoped to.”

On listing all players as “B”/Basketball players…

“Yeah, it’s new to me, and Ithat that’s what they are. It’s not valid to call them centers and power forwards and things like that as much with the way that we’re trying to play they. They’re being trained as basketball players, every day. I mean if you came out there Rodney Howard, a lot of times is doing the same things that Savir Wheeler’s doing. And in the sense of how we train with the ball handling, the driving, the shooting – all those type of things – that’s big to me. That’s what we’re recruiting. We’re recruiting basketball players, and again with the leopard, I shouldn’t call it an offense, it’s not like it’s a set play. It’s just you’re moving guys around you’re taking your set plays and moving guys into different spots and really trying to do it at the drop of a hat and try to do it on the fly. When my teams have gotten good at that, we’ve been really really able to steal baskets. And I’m hoping that we’re able to do that because I’m not sure how well we’re going to shoot early on. We’re training guys to play the game, training guys to be well versed in all aspects of the game and then, really, the next part of that be means defense too. So, we should put ‘B’ and then to way right because ‘B-2’ you’ve got to play both ends. Guys are having to learn how important the value of that end of the floor is to.”

On rebuilding a program and having two-thirds new players…

“It just is what it is I think it is what it is. I think guys like Tyree [Crump] really stood out with really trying to lead so other guys that need to step up their leadership. But again, a lot of what we’re doing is different for them. I have not put in many things that we did a year ago, some are similar, but they’re not the same things. We’re trying to make changes. We recruited a versatile team. We recruited a lot of young guys we had to, because of the fact we’re losing so many guys. Now we’ve just got to get them to grow. But we need the leadership. The camaraderie has been good, but the leadership, it’s got to take off even more. When you’re not highly confident in your own game – and it doesn’t matter what your age is – when you’re not overly confident at what you’re doing and you don’t have a lot to fall back on this and say, ‘okay I’ve done this, this, this and this,’ and it’s hard. It’s hard for leadership so that’s why it’s got to be collective. That’s why it’s got to be by example, our talk. I’m not sure how the other coaches in the country feel and there can’t be anybody that’s mastered communication at this point. It’s just hard, but we’re not there yet. Those are the kind of things that we’re trying to train when I talk about we’re trying to figure out what it takes to play well, what it takes to play and how hard you have to play, for how long you have to play and how right you have to play. It doesn’t mean you have to play great. It doesn’t mean everything has to be perfect, but you have to play right, which means you have to talk, you have to call out things, you have to deliver the ball on offense – and it takes time for guys to do that when they’re so young. I said this yesterday at [SEC] Media Day, but we got a lot of guys they play to play when we scrimmage. They play to play. They don’t really understand we’re trying to win that scrimmage. We don’t have college basketball experience to fall back on. And so a lot of times we’re still a product of ‘okay I played at 10:30 this morning. The game’s over noon I got another game at 6:30 or 7:00, okay, cool let’s get something to eat ant take a nap.’ That’s not reality now, and they don’t have any games to fall back on. So it becomes so much more of how we compete in practice. We are behind because we’ve had to be. We are behind, and that level of competition in practice because all we’re going to be doing in that sense is correcting 8000 errors, and we’re trying to get a semblance of how we want to play. And over the last week or so we tried to turn that back up.” 

On how he liked the newcomers’ progress in the preseason…

“[There’s been] tremendous progress. (Strength and conditioning coach) Sean Hayes and his entire group down there deserve a lot of credit. I’m not big on mantras and themes, but ours was really going to be ‘Commit to toughness.’ What does that mean? That means everything. It means ‘whatever it takes,’ in the sense that [they’re] going through [their] workout – it’s 45-50 minutes, and it’s hard – and then they’ve got to finish off with something that takes another 10 minutes. We’ve done so many different things inside of that, whether it was our basketball workouts, whether it was our weight workout. So, they’re gaining strength, but hopefully they’re also gaining a mental toughness to go with an endurance. Whether we’re using the indoor facility in football or the outdoor turf in football or the sandpit over there or pushing the sleds – we did anything that was going to help bring a level of toughness, because we do need that. We need grit. We need to be tougher. We need a little bit of a nastier streak. We need to be able to work through fatigue and to be able to overcome things. I knew we were going to have a very young team, but they have responded. They definitely made the gains when you look at some of the things these guys have done across the board. They’ve made tremendous gains, but now we’ve got to be able to go out and apply it on the court, and that’s going to take some time.”

On how he would describe managing 10 new players… the newcomers’ progress in the preseason…

“I don’t think we’re in any place where we could say ‘okay our talent level is where it needs to be.’ Mike Peake was one of those guys who, by the end of Peach Jam, he had 20-25 offers by the time that was over. He would have been a high level recruit coming out in a year. Again, we were always going to hold that scholarship with losing Nicolas Claxton. We didn’t have any illusions that we were going to replace Nic, but the bottom line [was to] get some more size, because that was a huge part of where we’re at. We’re still not big enough when you look around the league. To me, though, it’s invigorating. I probably in all honesty, wake up earlier in the morning. I’m not kidding by about an hour. I’m not kidding. Most days by about an hour, I try to go back to sleep sometimes by an hour to an hour and a half, two hours sometimes where it’s just racing in your head. So like it’s it’s nerve racking, but I look at it like this it’s it’s. There’s no question it’s a huge challenge, you know rebuilding a program, you know refurbishing however you want to look at that’s a challenge, but we got to take it as an opportunity, and that’s, that’s how I view it. So there’s an opportunity to grow a lot of guys. I have to think ‘okay am I going too fast on this or am I going too slow on that.’ So you sit there in the early morning, and sometimes late at night and you just, you know, second guess yourself to death. Because we don’t have things to fall back on. We don’t have that reservoir of and that residual effect. We just don’t have that. And so, someday we will, but right now we don’t have that so we’ve got to work through that part of it. I look at it as a great opportunity, and I’m enjoying it. I mean, and I think they are too. But every day is a great learning experience for them and for us, because the last time I had this young team was that first year in Indiana when we had maybe nine scholarship guys eight walk ons or whatever. We you know were raiding the baseball team and the whole thing. It was hard, but we to have a little more experience back on this team than we did that team. It’s very, very hard because everybody loses guys in the league, but I can’t imagine anybody’s got 10 newcomers. I haven’t looked at it. I can’t imagine if anyone does.”

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