Tom Crean: This Start Reminds Me of Dwyane Wade's first year

November 6, 2019
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ATHENS - UGA coach Tom Crean’s comments after the Bulldogs’ season opening win over Western Carolina.

"2100 students today. That is tremendous. I kept hearing in the back that the students were great during warm-ups, then I walked out there, that was awesome. That was absolutely awesome. That reminded me of year three at Marquette, Dwyane Wade's first year playing and it was in my third year. And we're playing a couple games on the weekend to start the season before we went to Alaska. And it just like blew me away how many students we had. And that's that belief and that's that trust, that's that blind faith that you wanted to have. And they made a difference for us tonight. Huge. All the fans did. But to see that kind of student crowd on a Tuesday night was awesome. As far as the game, we have so much to get better at. We have so much to get more competitive at. We have so much to clean up. But the bottom line is we're able to find a way to win the game. And as I tell these guys all the time, the game is always giving you something, and the game of momentum -- or the momentum in the game is always up for grabs. And tonight we had some guys grab momentum. We were able to grab momentum tonight. And Rodney Howard brought momentum back to us when he made those two big post plays inside. That was big. We played a lot of young guys. The foul trouble was -- we had to do a lot of balancing. And at the end of the game, when Dotson fouled out, then we were able to go a little bit smaller and switch everything and I think that helped us, too. So hopefully we'll get this team to a place where there's strength in numbers and we're not there yet. Right now we have a lot of bodies, but we've got to get guys that they can bring a lot of value to the court and that's all part of the learning process with a young team. So before I open it up, we announced before the game Jordan Harris will be eligible to compete on December 20th. I'm limited to what I can say, but I can tell you Jordan is practicing with the team. He's working hard and doing what he can to help the team improve on a daily basis. And he had stuff he was doing during the game for us. He ended last season playing really, really good basketball for us, as most of you know. It's a setback for him; it's a setback for us. Confident that he can move on with us and return and hopefully bring a good impact for us because he's certainly been practicing well. And that's where that stands and that's pretty much what I'm going to be limited to talking about. So it comes to him."

Q. You talk about momentum. How big were Anthony's two 3s?
"I think they were big. They were pretty good contact, and then we had to remind him, okay, we don't need to settle, we're in the double bonus. Then he made that left-hand drive off the right wing. That was huge. Those were in-rhythm, good-balance 3s. And he did a good job. He was aggressively looking for it. And that's what we want for him, not to settle. When the ball is moving, when it's moving in the flow of the offense like that and it's getting swung and he's ready to shoot, that's where he needs to be. I like the fact that those were catch-and-shoots because that's where he really needs to improve for us."

Q. You decided to start Sahvir Wheeler the start of the second half, what did he do to give the team a lift?
"What do you think? What does it look like"

Q. [Sahvir Wheeler]'s short. 
"That's your words. He might be small in stature but he's a gigantic heart. So don't anybody put "small." That guy has one giant heart. And we're so fortunate to get him. And Amir Abdur-Rahim deserves a lot of credit for that one -- the coaching change that came at Texas A&M, for us to land him. We knew he could make a difference. He's got tremendous speed. He's got quickness. He's got excellent, excellent vision. And he just changes the dynamic. And he did it at Charlotte and did it the first time against Valdosta State. And he just needs to keep improving. And I think he will. He has a level of toughness that allows him to do a number of things."

Q. How did they change the tempo with the way you guys did in the second half? 
"I think the speed thing is so huge because we're not -- Anthony's got to push it better, he's gotta push the ball, but he's got to throw the ball ahead better. Both will have to throw the ball ahead better. We're going to have a good break. We don't have that the rim-running big man yet that we have to have. And our front line is up for grabs. It really is. Every day it's got to become more and more competitive out there. Ray got 12 rebounds tonight. He wasn't even close to being in the mix rebounding the ball like he has to or like he could have based on that. So we've got to get better there. And again at the end of the game we were going to go small. But we're not going to be able to do that all the time. But Sahvir, one thing he does we never have to worry about who he was in with in a switching game. That was pretty big. When you've got a guy that's smaller in stature, size wise, but he has that quickness, that strength, that heart, that ability and that intelligence, that allows you to do a lot of different things. Being able to play him in a switch game at that size in his first college game says a lot about him. But he's a winner. Won a couple of state championships in high school. He brings a winning DNA to us. He brings a high, competitive value to us, and hopefully he's going to help some other guys bring more competitive nature out of it."

Q. Following up on this, can you talk me back to when you guys went to recruit him from a personality point of view, what were the types of things you saw from a personality standpoint?
"He's got that well-raised -- his dad's been a big part, his dad was here tonight. His dad's been a big part of his life. Oldest of I believe six kids, state champion, very good AAU player. Just has a maturity about him. People want to play with him. I remember Christian Brown, doing a home visit with Christian Brown when he committed to us, he's talking about Sahvir Wheeler. And that's the thing to me, like, kids want to be around him. They enjoy him. You see it on our bench. They enjoy watching him play well. But this is why we've got to keep shooting the ball better because he'll find you. The recruiting part, we knew once we got in front of him that -- especially with Amir, even though Amir was going through the process of going to Kennesaw -- how'd they do? Anybody see the score with Creighton?"

Q. They were down about 10.
"But we believed in what Amir saw when he was a part of the recruitment. But we also believed in him and we knew that we were going to need another guy that could come in show great leadership for us. And he's learning to do that. He'll get better with it. Nights like tonight will help with that leadership."

Q. Especially for his first regular season game for this class, especially from Edwards, do you think that did you sense that he felt that pressure at all?
"I don't know if he felt pressure. It was the first college game. That's where the pressure is. I don't know if that's the pressure of living up to anything; that's not him. I've not seen that in him. But being an 18-year-old since August 5th playing his first official college game, I did see that. I did see that and you see that in all of them. We can practice until we're blue in the face. I'm glad we played Valdosta here, and I'm glad we went to Charlotte for the exhibition. But it's different when it's opening night and that kind of crowd in the stand, and it's not even close to what it will be as we go down the line. I don't think he felt any pressure of expectation. I think it's truly it's the first college game. I thought he did a good job adjusting and settling it."

Q. How much of that turn do you attribute to curiosity over Anthony and looking ahead how much energy do you think he'll bring to the building?
"Bring a lot of energy. You look at a lot of those guys did, Sahvir did tonight. We've sold out all our season tickets. I think the fact that we had the students come like that, probably a huge part of it. They know it's a big recruiting class. I would say it's probably more than curiosity. It's like you know you're getting ready to watch somebody in a very young part of his life embarking on heck of a career and along the way they know about the recruiting class and see there's other guys in here that can do some really good things too. But I don't think there's any question that those guys can bring energy. To me it's always about finding what has to happen in the game to get it back going our way and who can grab momentum. And with that being said, there were numerous, numerous things we didn't do a very good job of. And that's the stuff that's got to get better. And we knew we wanted to get through this game and now spend a week trying to add some things that we need on the defensive end too."

Q. Talk about the game, always giving you something. Looked like Anthony had a shot going down at the first half then when he went down with, made the drive and the fouling. Did that impress, did you see him make that adjustment on the fly?
"That's important being a downhill player. A huge part of who he is, huge part of the way we play. And that's what we have to have. Chemistry is up for grabs every day with any program in the country, even the most veteran of a team. It's blending in new people. We're trying to blend in ten new people. That is incredible. I saw East Carolina was trying to blend in 11 new people. I don't know who else, maybe there's others trying to blend in 10. That's a hard deal. With that being said, when you're that young, you've got to get better during the game. And that's part of an answer to your question. Recognize what the game has given you, recognize the decisions that need to be made. And the hardest thing for young players is to play at a pace, understand the speed of the game, to not settle inside of that. And then to continue to understand how hard they have to go for how long in the sense of how they attack. And that's what he's got to continue to learn. And I thought he did a good job tonight at mixing and matching some of that. But he also did a pretty good job when he was there with Sahvir."

Q. What did you make of his defensive effort tonight, Anthony's?
"Everybody has to get better defensively. This was not a -- this was not a clinic tape, defensive rebound, at all, by anybody. We did a pretty good job of ball pressure. Sahvir and things like that. We have a lot to get better at. Our defensive effort, energy, schemes, activity, all those things have got to get better."

Q. Talk about Anthony, he stepped up tonight.
"I mentioned this before. I thought that Rodney did a really good job. There was a big play there. Donnell and Tyree. Tye Fagan did a nice job tonight. The minutes that he was in there like that. And Christian Brown and Toumani, had some freshman moments. And also had some veteran moments. Christian got some back cuts. It's going to take time. And I just think there were a lot of guys who contributed to the win."

Q. What do you need to do to get better?
"We've got ten new guys. I think I'm up here covering -- have you ever covered a team that's got ten new guys? You are now. You get to watch it just like I do. That's the bottom line. Game one. It's game one tonight. It's November 5th. And we've got a lot of room to get better and we played a lot of young new guys out there tonight and guys that are in different roles. So we're just going to focus on that."

Q. There at the end what they went on a run with the lead, what kicked in, in the last few minutes? 
" I think we covered it. Rodney -- and we defended pretty well did some good things there. Anthony shots -- Rodney's buckets."

Q. Very early in the season, but in the past two games you have either trailed or been neck-and-neck early on, the fact you guys are not panicking --
"Yeah, that's a good thing. That's all part of building the chemistry. And I think that's really good. What they've got to understand is how competitive practice has got to be. We've got guys, they want to play more. We've got to compete. As we put the press in and as we do different things defensively, there's a lot of things that are up for grabs right now because it's game one. And there's a lot of room for improvement. But I think the fact of the matter is they like each other. They work well together and leadership from a guy like Donnell, from a guy like Tyree Jordan, those things are starting to help. We need more in other areas. But we're not a consistent team. We're not a consistent day-to-day team yet. We're day to day, but we're not day by day and it's going to take us time to learn that and it's part of it. There's going to be some really tough nights in there. There just is. I hate to tell you. We have a bunch of young guys. That's why every win that we can get and learn from, it is going to be really, really important. But you need to do some research on how many teams have done things with ten new guys. I'm not talking about Kentucky and Duke signing five of the top 15 type deal. I'm talking about the rest, the reality for the rest. Ten new players is a different deal. It's going to take some time to get that."

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Tom Crean: This Start Reminds Me of Dwyane Wade's first year

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