Story Poster
Photo by Dean Legge / Dawg Post

Fans are Showing Up for Dawgs, Crean

November 16, 2018

ATHENS - What we know now for sure is that there is interest in Georgia’s men’s basketball program. 

How often could we have really said that since 2011? Once?

Friday night’s student section proved the interest. In my nearly two decades of doing this I can count on my hands how many times students came to basketball games in November on Friday nights… and it isn’t many. Downtown Athens usually wins Friday nights. 

But UGA said 7,195 fans were in attendance Friday night. That’s coming on the heels of last Friday night’s 9,018. 

FACT: Georgia hasn’t had back-to-back home openers with at least 7,000 fans since at least the Jim Harrick era. And you could hear the fans after UGA ripped off 11 unanswered points to go from down four to up four in the closing minutes of the game. The Dawgs closed out Sam Houston State 75-64 Friday night to go 2-1 on the season.

For too long fans and students haven’t cared about the basketball program here, and that appears to be changing or to have already changed. That’s an important thing to consider three games into Tom Crean’s time at Georgia… and there is still growth to be had as these are not sellouts.

“I’m not sure we win this game tonight without the crowd. I’m impressed and thankful.”
- Tom Crean

The first-year coach went over to the student section and cheered those who cheered his team; and then to midcourt and around Stegeman to thank folks for coming out. Folks might not be buying yet, but he’s selling. 

“I thought the crowd was fantastic tonight,” Crean said. “People were into it. I’m not sure we win this game tonight without the crowd. I’m impressed and thankful. We want this to be a fun atmosphere. I think people will get more excited about this team. That's one of the reasons why I wanted to come here when it came available. I am not being facetious. I am thankful for this. We have recruits in here, we are going to recruit with this. They want to feel energy, too. That's why I get excited."

This program can’t be relevant in the SEC - certainly not nationally - without there being passion for the program. And that passion cuts both ways if it is real. That means when Georgia loses big games in the future Crean will be criticized. 

That’s a good thing. That’s what you want. 

After a while folks didn’t even bother to criticize Mark Fox… they were worn down, and complaining didn’t seem to matter. They wanted change, and that wasn’t happening. Nine years was probably two too many. 

And it isn’t just a renewal of interest from students and fans. The Georgia bench seems interested as well. Assistant coaches pop up out of their chairs a lot. UGA players stand an awful lot during games (and this was an intense game considering the Dawgs were going up against a non-power school… Sam Houston State played hard and got after it for sure). Crean, and this is a guess, probably losses about two pounds a game because of constant pacing on the sideline.

There is a certain intensity now - maybe everything new always seems better at the start; I don’t know. 

This team still has problems. It will be interesting to see how much interest Georgia can maintain if it struggles in December. It isn’t out of the question that this team be able to play itself into the NCAAs, but they’ve got a long and windy road from here to there. 

Point guard still seems like a work in progress (and that might be putting it nicely). That’s the No. 1 problem on this team right now. We saw Turtle Jackson, Tyree Crump and others lead the ball up the court during the game. I’m asking genuinely: who is the ball handler on this team? Is this one of those things where UGA does’t have a traditional one, so they are going to just work with what they have? Does it matter who has the rock? Sure seems like it to me. 

Also, Crean’s teams were criticized for poor defense while he was at Indiana, but Georgia has mixed up defenses effectively. Tonight UGA forced several shot clock violations on Sam Houston State. There were defensive lapses, but UGA played pretty well on that front. 

Perhaps the biggest global point here is that there doesn’t yet seem to be continuity on this team. Nicolas Claxton, who seems to be the program’s best player, is up and down. Derek Ogbeide didn’t matter much tonight, and he is going to need to matter.

What is the identity of this team right now? It doesn’t seem to have one. Crean has a lot of moving parts to deal with. He’s got a challenge on his hands of getting this fluid situation figured out, but at least he’s got the support of students and fans. 

That’s new in Athens. 

subscribe Verify your student status
See Subscription Benefits
Trial only available to users who have never subscribed or participated in a previous trial.