Video/Transcript: Tom Crean, Sahvir Wheeler and K.D. Johnson Interviews – Georgia vs. Kentucky Preview

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Video/Transcript: Tom Crean, Sahvir Wheeler and K.D. Johnson Interviews – Georgia vs. Kentucky Preview


Photo by Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics
Photo by Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics

On whether increased minutes for his best players is a trend he hopes to continue…

“It’s a feel. It’s based on how well the game is going, and we had good momentum, and we had good chemistry on the floor. We were making shots, and we were making defensive stops. So, I’d like to keep the bench and keep our depth strong, but in that situation, it’s just a feel, and we’re reading the game the best that we can.”

On Georgia’s high shooting percentage at Ole Miss, the importance of that type of performance going forward in SEC play and what gives the team better shooting chances…

“It’s extremely important, and I think it’s a combination of getting better looks. I think K.D. [Johnson] being in there certainly helps us, and we made 12 threes at LSU. [It’s a combination of] when we’re getting really good ball movement, but most importantly, when we’re getting good cutting. It’s when we’re cutting, when we’re getting purposeful scoring cuts, when we’re reversing the ball, [and] when we’re ready to shoot. Sahvir [Wheeler] had two threes that were catch-and-shoots that he was both ready to shoot, right? We’re not a big off-the-dribble three-point shooting team. I’m not looking for a lot of guys to shoot corner threes. What we’re looking for is to get the ball through the paint and get it reversed out. When we do that, [and] we’ve got a good combination of cutting going with spacing, it creates a lot of open looks. Then, we just have to knock them down. K.D. [Johnson] certainly adds to it, there’s no doubt about that.”

On K.D. Johnson and what he is doing to help the team thus far…

“He’s a really great player. He moves without the ball. He can drive to the rim. He can shoot the ball. He’s strong. He’s a very aggressive driver. You have to guard him, and at times, we have guys on the court that the defense determines that they really don’t want to guard that much, and so then you really have to be in a really good situation, like Tye Fagan was the other day, when they’re losing sight of you, is to move the ball and cut. K.D. [Johnson] can do a lot of different things, and the defense has to know where he’s at, and they have to honor him, and he can create for others.”

On Sahvir Wheeler’s leadership and how Wheeler sets his team up for success…

“I think he’s got the personality. I think he’s got a joy for the game. They all like him. He’s a happy person. He’s serious-minded, but he’s happy. He’s confident, and I think when you have that, you’re talking to your teammates. I think, more and more, he’s getting to the point where he’s not afraid to get on his teammates, and I think we have to have guys that are like that, and when you have three seniors, that’s one thing. But when you have three seniors who are brand new to the program, it takes a little bit longer for them. Sahvir has done a good job with that, and he needs to continue to, and then I think it should bring more confidence to the other guys to be more demanding of one another. Just like when you add K.D. Johnson, that competitiveness and the confidence is contagious that he plays with, and so I think those are things that Sahvir brings that he needs to continue to work really hard to make sure they’re a part of his game every day.”

On Kentucky…

“Well, they still have great length. I mean they are picked to win our league—I believe, right there with Tennessee. It’s a Kentucky team that can score. I think the emergence of [Dontaie] Allen has really helped them. He’s 15-30 from three in the league. I think he’s got half of their threes. I think Davion Mintz is getting much more comfortable, as is [Olivier] Sarr, you know being fifth year guys inside of that program or four year guys—whatever they are you know right now in the sense of being veterans on that team. Certainly, [Devin] Askew, [Brandon] Boston, [Isaiah] Jackson, all of the litany of great freshman that they have can make plays. The bottom line is you have to keep them off the glass. You can’t let them have freedom in transition. They run a lot of really good sets. I think what we’ll see more and more is a lot more post-up with Keion Brooks being back. He’s really bulked up and playing a lot more inside for them. They bring a lot of weaponry to the floor with the way they can score, the way they can get to the rim. The way they can make free throws, but certainly it’s a game of in itself when that shot goes up off the board with the way that they rebound, and they’ve always been like that. I think defensively you have to do everything you can to keep the game moving and spread because when they can sit back and use their length and protect one another, that’s when they’re at their best. We have to make the game move—whether its full court, certainly in the half court. We cannot just stand and settle, we have to cut, move, move without the ball in a big way.”

On whether he ties Georgia’s turnover number to his team’s quickness and whether he accepts that…

“No. It has to get better. It’s sloppy. There’s times it’s just sloppy. We have not been able to run all the time, right? We need to win the game. We may not be able to run all the time. There was a concerted effort to be under more control and to run more action than Ole Miss the other day. We have to make better decisions. In the old John Wooden, ‘Be quick. Don’t hurry.’ You can’t play reckless basketball. Certainly, I will accept some from Sahvir [Wheeler] because he’s fast moving, but even he has to get better with the turnovers. You can never play dare basketball. You can never play, ‘Well, you know what maybe I can get this, maybe I can’t.’ It’s not how you play, right? You have to be efficient, simple, make the simple pass, make it one dribble earlier, keep the ball alive around the bucket. That’s one thing we are really working hard on at right now is to—sometimes shot become like turnovers. When you go in and drive it in on shot blocker, like we did against Auburn, those becomes like turnovers. Those are live-ball turnovers that you can’t defend, you have to be smarter than that, and you have to recognize the defense and recognize that the worst thing that can happen is to shoot it quick against the shot blocker—keep the ball alive and make another pass. That’s what we’re trying to do better, and then it just becomes maturity and being ready to shoot and guys moving without the basketball.”

On whether the mindset and energy of Georgia changes as the team prepares for Kentucky…

“I wouldn’t think so, and I don’t think we are playing their record. I think we’re playing Kentucky, and I think the fact that they won three in a row right out of the gate—we are preparing for a team, not what their record is because we know what they are fully capable of. They had the number one or two recruiting class. They have Sarr and Toppin eligible—late in the year. They are a good team, and [John Calipari] is an outstanding coach. We are getting ready for that group, and not where they sit or not what they’ve done record-wise, it’s where they’re at now, and that’s what we’re preparing for.”

On whether he has seen his guys having more ‘fun’ on the court over the last week or so…

“Well, fun is when you are connected to one another on the court. When you’re not getting back in transition or you’re not talking—that’s not fun for anybody. When you are locked in and when you do feel that energy from one another it develops a synergy, and I think that is where the fun is. Yeah, absolutely! I think our team needs to understand that at the end of the day, the top of the umbrella for this team, and maybe it was different last year when you had Anthony Edwards, but this is the way it is this year—it’s got to be a balanced team. The moment somebody comes in and thinks that they have to carry the load or they have to do this or they have to do that—that’s when we’re not really good. We are not built that way. That’s not the way it worked out this spring and summer when COVID came and the pandemic came. We didn’t get as big as we would have like. With that being said, now we have to be harder to guard if we are not as big. We have to be able to space the floor. We have to be able to make shots. We have to be able to move without the ball. We have to have balance. I thought the other day—I don’t know if we had five guys in double figures or four, whatever it was, but I thought it was much more like it and when the ball is moving that way. That’s what you have to work on every day. These kids are here every day. It’s not as hard as it can look. When you move with the ball, when you move without the ball, when you are ready to shoot, when you are creating things from your defense, when you get on the glass we are going to play fine and have fun. But, when the ball stops or you get in your mind that you are going to have to do something that is not realistic, and every team goes through it, but that’s when we’re not as good. We don’t have that margin for error this year because we don’t have a guy like an Anthony Edwards or even a Nicolas Claxton from the year before that can bail you out with so many different things. That’s why the balance of our team is so important, and that’s why we have to continue to get better at shooting the ball, and we have to continue to get our turnovers down.”

On the importance of picking up Georgia’s first SEC win on the road versus Ole Miss…

“It was really important. It was very important to get a win. We have worked hard, and we’ve earned it. We really needed to win and we did, so it was great.”

On how being a three-point threat opens up shots for other guys…

“I think I open up a lot of new offenses and stuff like Tye [Fagan] cutting, three-point shooter P.J. Horne, that opens up shots for him with guys over helping on me because he hasn’t been hitting the last few games, but he’s getting back in rhythm and knocking down shots from teams overplaying me.”

On how the team can take momentum into tomorrow after getting that first SEC win…

“Sticking to the script of what worked last game. Now we’re just having fun and playing the way we’ve been playing. Listening to Coach Crean and Coach [Steve] McClain now, so we’re just following their role and keeping it going.”

On what about Kentucky they’ve been focusing on…

“We’re not too focused on who we’re playing, we’re just taking it one game at a time, trying to get us on a winning streak right now. We came off of a couple of bad losses and games we could have won so now we’re just getting on a roll and winning games and having fun.”

On what has improved since he’s been getting more playing time …

“I think my defense picked up a lot. Getting in shape, feeling how the game is and how the game flows because it’s way different than just practice. So, me getting going and running on the court while it’s live, that’s just another atmosphere.”

On if his mindset going into the Kentucky game is different this year…

“No, they’re still a quality SEC opponent at a high level in a Power Five conference with a big time coach and big time players. We’re treating every game like that’s what they are, and we’re trying to get the win at the end of the day.”

On if the team has been having more fun since their last game…

“There has been a significant improvement in a lot of areas. We’re reminding each other what it’s like to be successful and what it’s been like to win those games. When we’re at our best, we’re having fun, playing for each other and sharing a ball. So, that’s been a point of emphasis for us in practice and was definitely a point of emphasis for us at Ole Miss when we got the win.”

On the atmosphere surrounding the Kentucky game last year and if it will be different this year…

“It was a greatly anticipated match up. It was a great game and one of the best atmospheres I’ve been in. With COVID-19 interrupting this year obviously it isn’t going to be the same. We’re in SEC play so every game is intense, if you look at their SEC record, I believe they’re 3-1. They’re one of the better teams in the SEC right now, and we’re trying to make our way and show people we’re one of the better teams. We just came off a great win at Ole Miss and trying to keep that streak going. We’re treating every game like it’s the national championship, trying to prepare for it as best we can and we’re trying to win games.”

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