It’s a rite of the season for Georgia fans this time of year. During the window between the end of spring and the start of preseason camp, road tour-like events with appearances by Kirby Smart and others serve as gasps of fresh air to get through the wait until the actual season starts.
That vibe was in downtown Macon on Monday night as UGA’s Road Tour stop swung through Macon with both Kirby Smart and Tom Crean taking the stage to give a brief overview of the latest within their respective programs.
In a way, the night, and the way it was run, was a microcosm of the current state of the program.
If you’ve been the similar events like these in the past prior to Kirby Smart’s arrival, there was a different feel. It was very, very wide-brush reaching to pack a venue out with as many fans as possible, creating a pep-rally like atmosphere with those like Hondo Williamson there to amp up the crowd.
Contrast that with Monday night at the more intimate Hargray Capitol Theater in downtown Macon. The event was lightly promoted compared to a few years ago and due to the smaller venue, the audience was smaller and due to time schedules, attendees were able to have photos from each coach but no autographs were permitted.
Not that anyone there seemed to mind the all-business approach - the current state of the football program and the momentum being built by Tom Crean has an awful lot to do with that. There’s a certain brand that UGA wants out in the public right now, and events like Monday set that tone...in other words - controlled the message and not having the event’s spotlight being possibly unpredictable questions from the crowd like the one that elicited Mark Richt’s “I think I know what the hell I’m doing” reply.
As for the night itself, the biggest takeaway from Kirby Smart is that all current and incoming players have qualified. Yes, ALL. That includes George Pickens, a remarkable bookend to a signing class that, with so man numbers, is remarkable to have everyone within it to qualify academically.
As expected, the fertile recruiting territory of central Georgia was highlighted with nods to the area having produced Jake Fromm, Trey Hill and Roquan Smith, among others. Speaking of players, Smart also noted that while May is a time of year the staff encourages its players to take it easy, that ride ends when the players get back to campus by Scott Sinclair...aka ‘the guy that’s jerking me back on the sidelines.’ In that vein, the opportunity to evaluate prospects in June will be a key time, and the fact that the staff can see what kind of toughness players have in the very stifling Georgia heat is a key metric, one that the staff likes to see early on instead of learning on the back end after a player gets to campus.
Just leaving Macon after two great events tonight. Thank you on behalf of @KirbySmartUGA and @admcgarity for the enthusiasm. A lot of good Q and A and interaction. It was fun. #GoDawgs pic.twitter.com/3L1vsbZPMX— Tom Crean (@TomCrean) May 21, 2019
As for Tom Crean: whatever this guy has in his coffee, we could use some more of it. You can’t help but not be energized anytime you hear him speak of the program - just think of how much enthusiasm he’ll have when this program does get to where he and the fan base wants it. Crean was blunt to a degree, admitting that the program has some history to fight against, from the perception that the lack of it being a basketball powerhouse. On the other side of the coin, he also noted similar thinking when he arrived at Indiana before that program was revitalized compared to its state when he arrived, and those that counted the program out were ‘sitting at home’ when they elevated those fortunes.
Crean spoke of the incoming recruits, part of a top-ten rated class, and the crowd even applauded a few times, especially with the mention of Anthony Edwards. Crean pointed out not just looking forward to helping the guy they already call “Ant Man” reach the next level, but also noting that it includes not necessarily the NBA, but being the player he can be. Another jewel of the incoming class, Sahvir Wheeler, a Georgia arrival thanks to a coaching change at Texas A&M, has a goal to lead the nation in assists.
Crean, more so than Smart put the onus on those in attendance. In pointing out that all that anyone could ever want athletically and as a university is at UGA, he also underscored that the program needs the fan base not just in attendance, but to advocate for the excitement around the program, as well.