Well, it happened again.
A Georgia basketball roster beset by transfers this offseason suffered its biggest loss yet with Sahvir Wheeler’s decision to both enter the transfer portal and NBA Draft at the same time. For those confused by this, it helps to remember that in college basketball a player can declare for the draft but pull his name out of the draft pool and rerun to college as long as he does not sign with an agent. I expect what this combo means is that Wheeler will explore the draft, and if he doesn’t like his options (I don’t expect him to be an early selection) find another college at which to play. In essence, it sounds like Sahvir Wheeler wants to play basketball next season. He just wants to play it anywhere but at Georgia for Tom Crean.
To his credit Crean’s statement on Wheeler’s decision was graceful and appropriate.
Statement texted from Georgia head coach Tom Crean regarding Sahvir Wheeler’s decision to enter the portal and apply for the NBA Draft. pic.twitter.com/tdgchu2Za7— Anthony Dasher (@AnthonyDasher1) April 20, 2021
He’s correct that the past year has been tough on players, especially those like Texas-native Wheeler who are far from home and have been restricted from seeing family for months at a time. And he’s correct that the transfer portal and immediate eligibility are the new reality in college sports, one which coaches and fans must accept.
But let’s get a few other things straight. For one, transferring now is a bit like demanding to get off the boat after you’ve sailed straight through the hurricane and the port is in sight. There’s every reason to believe that the travel restrictions, program protocols, and other measures which have made it hard to be a college athlete far from home will be fewer (or non-existent) next year. The players bringing this up (Wheeler isn’t the first) are largely reacting to what they’ve been put through, not what they have in front of them. There’s no crime in reassessing your priorities. But it’s hard to believe isolation is truly the only factor at play here. Because it’s the one thing in Wheeler’s current situation likely to improve.
Second, there is no factual setup in which your team’s starting point guard and leading returning starter choosing to transfer after two seasons in the program is “normal” or “expected” or “just the way things are now.” Sahvir Wheeler just finished a season in which he played a ton of minutes in a premier basketball conference, playing the spot for which he’s tailor made. He notched the first triple double in school history, led the SEC in steals, and earned second team all-conference honors.
That’s not surviving. That’s thriving. From the outside, objectively speaking, Sahvir Wheeler’s situation in Athens couldn’t be better. If he believed in the future of UGA basketball now would be the time to buy in, not the time to check out. His decision to leave for anything other than a sure NBA future makes it appear he truly wanted to get the heck out of Dodge. And that reflects poorly on the leadership of our basketball program. If you can’t keep the guy who played the most minutes of anyone on the team happy there are problems.
Finally, and I hate to beat a dead horse here, we have to view Georgia’s current crop of transfers in context. College basketball fans should expect a couple of transfers every season at this point. Crean’s right, it is the nature of the game. Maybe for more playing time. Or for a better scheme fit. But when key players like Wheeler and Toumani Camara and Tye Fagan are scrambling for the life boats it both indicates a problem in the program in the present and dire prospects for the future. Georgia isn’t a blue blood basketball program. Short of handing out private yachts Tom Crean is not signing a class full of one-and-done players annually who can lead his team on a deep tournament run.
That means he needs to find good players, develop them into better players, and use that as exhibit A in signing even better players in the future. It’s a virtuous cycle, like riding a bike downhill and picking up speed as you go.
Now, however, instead of riding that bike downhill we find ourselves trudging along on what I call “Tom’s Treadmill.” Three years into his tenure the promising prospects Crean sold on coming to Athens in prior classes should be reaching their peak. They should be seasoned, physically mature, mentally tough basketball players ready to compete for a conference title.
Some of them are, but not in Athens. They’ve mostly departed for greener pastures, and Crean just keeps adding more transfers and high school signees. I’m sure those guys are good players and good people. They come from good families and their mamas and daddies should be proud of them for earning a basketball scholarship to the University of Georgia.
But next January I’m going to be writing about how they’re not yet ready to compete for a tournament bid, but maybe with another year.....
I said the same this year about Wheeler. I said it about Tye Fagan, and Toumani Camara and .....
It’s a never-ending treadmill. Tom Crean leading us on a constant walk where the scenery never really changes. A year from now we’ll most likely be standing in the same spot, having walked three miles but gone nowhere.
I’m just about ready to hop off.