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The Georgia Bulldogs' Basketball Problem? A Lack of Imagination

March 10, 2022

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ATHENS - The Georgia Bulldogs should win the national championship in men’s basketball in the next 15 years. 

If that sentence scares you, or you don't think that's possible you are part of the problem. 

In the last 15 years, Florida has won a national title and gone to two Final Fours; Auburn has been ranked No. 1 and been to a Final Four; and South Carolina has gone to a Final Four. South. Carolina

Those are three of the worst basketball programs in the history of the SEC. Georgia is near the bottom as well. Unlike those schools, however, Georgia has the hotbed of basketball in the South, and one of the best in the country, an hour from campus. 

The truth is Georgia hasn’t cared about winning in basketball because it has never mattered. But unlike the past, basketball matters now in the SEC. About seven years ago the league decided to be great at the sport, and now it is either the best conference in the nation, or one of the top two. 

The ACC is a shell of what it once was. The power in the South has shifted to the SEC in a major way in basketball, and everyone knows it. 

So what does that mean for Georgia? It is time to take advantage of Atlanta. It is time to hire a coach that fits the school. It is time to market to the fanbase. It is time to recruit on a very high level - the likes which serves notice not just to Bruce Pearl, but John Calipari as well. 

Think I’m wrong? You are part of the problem - very specifically your imagination is the problem. Its time to start getting serious about basketball - a sport Georgia shouldn’t just be great at, but should be dominate at. 

Remember when beating Tech was good enough in the 1990s in football? Remember when hanging in there with the Gators was good enough after the turn of the century? Remember the “Oh, it’s OK” mentality at Georgia?

I remember that - everyone does. 

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The world has changed. Folks may or may not be aware of that fact, but it has. And college athletics are more important than ever because of the money, exposure and passion that flow through them. The No. 1 recruiting tool for the University of Georgia (meaning the school) is its athletic programs. And whereas the most-watched men’s basketball game of this academic year (3.98 million viewers for UNC-Duke II) pales in comparison to, say, Georgia-Florida football (6.10) it still matters what happens in basketball. 

Why? Why listen to me? Because I have lived this - literally. I spent the springs and summers of my youth traveling the country playing with (among others) Jabari Smith’s father while we played AAU basketball with Larry Brown and against Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Matt Harping, Vonteego Cummings, Jabari Smith, Juan Gaston, etc. 

I then went on to play in college, and saw first hand just how hard it was to grind out wins when you didn’t have the best players. Coaching only goes so far. I also saw a ton of players from Georgia go on to have significant college careers including two high school teammates of mine: Darryl LaBarrie and Shernard Long.

I’ve also been around long enough to know that just because you make the right hire - that doesn’t mean it will work out. To be clear - Georgia can’t hire the next Mark Fox here. This hire can’t be incremental. 

This has to work, and it has to work now. There are no certainties, but the school needs to change its mindset towards the sport. I have seen Stegeman be a scary place to play. Games with the Gators, Tech and Tennessee have been particularly lively in my time covering Georgia. As have games with Kentucky. 

But for too long Georgia hasn’t had the firepower on the court to do damage. I read Mark Schlabach’s very well-done article about the basketball program at Georgia, which asked: “Why can't the Georgia Bulldogs win in men's college basketball?” 

The short answer is that they have not tried to win. They’ve rolled a product out there that has been adequate at best. I’m not sure the powers that be (whatever that means in this case) have actually expected that it be beyond adequate at best. 

I also know from my experience on the Board of Trustees where I played in college that if you don’t focus your efforts on winning YOU WILL NOT WIN. What you spend money on - your budget - is a sign of what is important to you. 

Georgia has not committed enough recourses to winning in basketball - and I am not necessarily talking about building a new facility. It has not mentally committed enough recourses to winning. The money that has, therefore, not followed is just confirmation of not really caring enough. 

But, once more, the market is there for Georgia. And the market is there not just to win the way the Gators are winning right now. Frankly, that’s not good enough. The market is there for Georgia to win the way the Gators won when Billy Donovan was in Gainesville - that’s 16 consecutive 20-win seasons with six SEC regular season titles, four Final Fours and two national titles. 

Seem like asking too much? DO YOU SEE WHAT’S HAPPENING AT AUBURN? We are talking about Auburn, which can hardly chew gum and walk at the same time. This isn’t “that” hard. This certainly isn’t as hard as it has been at Georgia over the last 20 years. 

This is about hiring the right person. Who is that person? Great question. Someone smarter than me is going to have to asnwer that. 

Tags: Tom Crean
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