I know, I’m late to get this up there as the season already started on Tuesday with Tom Crean’s cast of characters defeating Florida International 58-51. Thus begins the fourth season in Athens for Coach Crean, and it’ll involve a lot of new faces.
While we can lament the immense amount of transfers out, and coming in, to the program, Crean is not alone in having to deal with massive turnover on his roster. Out are Sahvir Wheeler (Kentucky), Toumani Camara (Dayton), KD Johnson (Auburn), Tye Fagan (Ole Miss), and others. In comes Jailyn Ingram (Florida Atlantic), Jabri Abdur-Rahim (Virginia), Aaron Cook (Gonzaga), among others. The increase in transfer activity around college basketball has been alarming to some (see Roy Williams’ retirement from North Carolina), but has become the standard business practice for just about everyone with every SEC team having at least 6 players transfer out from last year.
So what can we reasonably expect this coming winter? Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. Reporters predict the Hoop Dawgs will finish last in the SEC, but the staff is reportedly very happy with their new players and feel they can push the pace even further in a high scoring, wide open offense.
The schedule has some challenges, with the team traveling to Cincinnati on Saturday to take on Wes Miller and the Bearcats. Miller (no relation to former Arizona coach Sean, or current Indiana coach Archie), is in his first season after a 10 yr run at UNC-Greensboro, has to deal with significant roster turnover as well, a theme that would carry through pretty much every opponent the Dawgs will face this season. It’ll also be a chance to catch up with former assistant Chad Dollar, who joined Miller’s staff on the Ohio River, with former Stephen F Austin head coach Wade Mason taking his spot in Athens. Other bigger name non-conference matchups include hosting Georgia Tech Friday, November 19th at 9 pm (on SEC Network), getting Virginia (ESPNU) plus Northwestern or Providence (slated for ESPN2) early on Thanksgiving week in the Legends Classic in New Jersey. Final Four contender Memphis, led by Penny Hardaway, will come to Athens on December 1 and former Final Four squad George Mason visits the Classic City on December 18th, among other non-conference games before SEC action begins January 4th when Crean’s crew hosts Texas A&M.
As for the players on the floor, one of the few familiar names in returning senior PJ Horne won’t be out there. He suffered a season ending knee injury during fall camp. Aaron Cook, the senior transfer from Gonzaga, looks to be the starter at PG and led the team in scoring in the opening win. A “super senior” taking advantage of the opportunity for a sixth season, Cook started 70 games for Southern Illinois before joining the NCAA Tourney runners up in the Zags last year. There, he backed up current Orlando Magic star Jalen Suggs but he’s bringing his experience and outside shooting to our starting lineup.
Kario Oquendo joined Cook in the starting backcourt earlier this week. The 6’4 sophomore will look to attack the rim, draw fouls, and play stiff defense having joined from Florida Southwest after spending just a single season there when he skipped his senior season at Astronaut High in Titusville, Florida.
Former Morgan County star Jailyn Ingram looks slated to start at F, having utilized his opportunity for a sixth season as well following over 105 starts during five seasons with Florida Atlantic and having been their leading scorer and rebounder last year. Sophomore Jabri Abdur-Rahim joins Ingram likely starting at F this year, and was a top 50 recruit for the Caveliers before deciding to come to Athens. If the name sounds familiar, it should. His uncle, Amir Abdur-Rahim, was an assistant for Crean before taking over the head job at Kennesaw St, and was one of five uncles who played major college ball. Jabri’s father is Shareef Abdur-Rahim, who had a long NBA career after playing at Cal and Wheeler High School in Atlanta, and is now the President of the NBA’s developmental league.
6’11 Center Braelen Bridges was a starter at Illinois-Chicago under current assistant Steve McLain when he was head coach for the Flames, and also played at Union Grove in Atlanta during high school. Texas natives junior Ty McMillan (6’9) and freshman Ty Baker (6’11) will compete with him for the minutes in the middle. Junior Jaxon Etter, a walk-on from Woodstock, got the most minutes off the bench in the opener. With the 6’4 wing providing a steady shooting hand when he gets on the floor. Noah Baumann, a senior transfer from Southern Cal, adds another marksman from the wings off the bench.
Freshmen Cam McDowell (McEachern) and Christian Wright (The Skill Factory) add backcourt depth behind Cook and Oquendo, while junior and two-time JUCO All American Dalen Ridgnal (rhymes with original) adds depth behind Ingram and Abdur-Rahim.
It won’t be an easy season, and we can probably expect a few spurts of quality and struggle mixed in early while the players get a feel for each other, but then again we won’t be alone with transfers dominating the college basketball landscape like it does these days. So while the expectations aren’t high, there is a lot of unknowns across the board in the SEC. Crean has an experienced crew with some quality athletes and a lot of space eating shooters. But as Hugh Durham used to say, we don’t really want shooters, we want makers. These guys can make their fair share of buckets too, and hopefully do enough of that to get Tom Crean to a dance for the first time in a long time.