After a couple of exhibition tuneups Tom Crean’s Hoop Hounds will hit the hardwood tonight in Stegeman Coliseum to officially open the 2019-2020 basketball season.
When they do take the floor against the Western Carolina Catamounts they’ll be a much different group than the one that Crean guided to an 11-21 mark last season. The biggest difference is presumed to be the presence of guard Anthony Edwards, 247Sports’ #2 prospect in the 2019 class and the #1 rated shooting guard. The 6’5 Edwards is a kind of player Georgia’s not had on campus at any time in the modern era of UGA basketball, a legit one-and-done NBA lottery prospect. So far the early returns are promising, as the blue chipper out of Holy Spirit Prep in Atlanta has
But Edwards isn’t the only new addition to the Red and Black. Coach Crean signed likely the most highly ranked recruiting class in the last 30+ years of UGA basketball, a total of seven new players to replace a mix of graduating seniors, NBA early entry Nic Claxton, and a couple of transfers. They’re a talented group, but how far this team goes will depend on how well that talent is developed by their veteran coaching staff, and how well the group meshes with the remaining veterans in the rotation.
Among those veterans is Tyree Crump, who will start at the guard spot opposite Edwrads. The senior from Bainbridge averaged 9.1 points per game as a junior, hitting double digits 11 times. Crump was also a prodigious three point shooter in 2018-19, and when he hit from downtown it was a harbinger of good things for the ‘Dawgs. It will be interesting to see how he fares in his second season at the point for the Crean Machine in Red and Black.
Crump will be pushed by freshman point guard Sahvir Wheeler. The four star recruit out of Houston (TX) Christian is a speedy slasher with the ability to also score from the outside. Also keep an eye on sophomore Tye Fagan. The sophomore out of Thomaston saw action in 31 of 32 games for the Hoop Hounds last season and will again be a big contributor off the bench this season.
It’s also worth keeping an eye on graduate transfer guard Donnell Gresham. The Northeastern transfer started 33 of 34 games for the Huskies of the Colonial Athletic Association, helping lead the team to an NCAA Tournament bid. You don’t bring in graduate transfers to have them sit on the bench, so Gresham will almost certainly be in the rotation. But between the senior Crump and the freshman phenom Edwards it will be interesting to see what rotation Crean goes with and who plays takes point. It may well be a developing rotation through the early part of the season.
In the post Georgia will likely rely on a similar mix of youth and experience. Norcross junior Rayshaun Hammonds returns after an injury-shortened sophomore season. Hammonds started the first 27 games of the year and averaged a nifty 12.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per outing before a season-ending foot injury against Ole Miss. Hammonds is one of Georgia’s most versatile big scorers.
It looks like the ‘Dawgs will also start sophomore Amanze Ngumezi out of Savannah as one of the three “combo bigs” Crean likes to employ. In Crean’s system the offense flows through big, quick forwards who can both square off one-on-one with defenders and step out and play more of a traditional “small forward” role. They need to be able to body up and rebound on defense, and move the ball around on offense. Ngumezi showed some of that potential as a freshman, and it will be really interesting to see how he’s progressed in the offseason.
The final likely starter for the Athenians tonight will be another member of that touted freshman class, Toumani Camara. The 6’8, 220 pound Camara averaged 24.3 points per game last season for Florida power Chaminade-Madonna Prep and eventually found his way into several recruiting services national top 100 lists. While some of the bigs Crean inherited in Athens have had to mold themselves into that combo forward role discussed above, Camara looks made for it.
He’ll share time with fellow freshman Christian Brown. The 6’6 forward out of powerhouse Oak Hill Academy is another of Crean’s national top 100 freshmen, and he was impressive in the Dawgs’ recent exhibition win over Charlotte, nothing 14 points and 3 rebounds off the bench.
The Catamounts of the Southern Conference come into Athens to start their second season under coach Mark Prosser. Prosser was 7-25 in his first season in Cullowhee, and will likely play a smaller, guard heavy lineup against the Bulldogs. The ‘Mounts are a veteran squad, though the talent discrepancy should be on full display. This UGA team is, on the whole, bigger and quicker than last season’s. The talent is there to compete in an SEC that only put four teams in the AP’s preseason top 25 this year.
Media members picked the Classic City Canines to finish ninth in the league this season which, for a league that habitually puts seven teams in the NCAA Tournament, basically means they’re viewed as a March Madness bubble team. However if the ingredients start to gel in Crean’s second season in Athens, the ceiling for this team could be a good bit higher. Being optimistic about UGA basketball is a dangerous hobby. But there’s every reason to believe that if Crean can do no more than what he’s done at prior coaching stops, these ‘Dawgs could be hunting for a tournament bid come March.
GEORGIA BULLDOGS VS. WESTERN CAROLINA CATAMOUNTS
Tip time: 7:00 p.m Athens time
Series record: Georgia leads 6-0, last meeting a 65-63 UGA win on December 21, 2013.