ATHENS – Tom Crean isn’t the type to hyperbole, but Georgia’s basketball coach wasn’t afraid to say what everyone was thinking on Wednesday night.
“We needed something good to happen for us,” said Crean, as happy to share a 400th career victory with his family and Georgia basketball fans as he was relieved to see his new team. earn a quality victory.
“We needed a win to validate how hard this team worked.”
The Bulldogs (3-5) also needed a win to restore confidence in program management after a 68-65 home loss to Wofford on Sunday.
Georgia ended a four-game losing streak with the 82-79 loss to No.18 Memphis (5-2), sweeping a home streak against coach Penny Hardaway.
Just two years ago, Crean and Georgia went to the FedEx Forum in Memphis and beat the No.9 Tigers, 65-62.
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The 2019 victory in Memphis marked UGA’s first victory over a Top 10 team in more than 15 years. It was only the second road victory over a non-conference Top 25 opponent in program history.
But this Wednesday night win could turn out to be bigger if the Bulldogs can capitalize on it.
Kairo Oquendo, an explosive 6-foot-4 talent identified and recruited in Southwest Florida (JC), scored a record 24 on 9 of 13 shots against Memphis.
Oquendo also made the game of the game with a steal and breakaway dunk in the dying minutes.
“Kario is only scratching the surface,” said Crean, who has seen Oquendo struggle in his first two games at D-1 level, scoring 9 points with 3 turnovers in game opener against Florida International, and no points. with 3 turnovers in 26 minutes. in Cincinnati in Game 2 of the season.
The version of Kario Oquendo who sat behind the microphone six games later, having topped Memphis’ talented roster, was a different young man.
“We feel like we can play with anyone,” Oquendo said in a neutral tone. “It was a different type of energy tonight. I felt it was the hardest we’ve played all season.
“We have to get over it and keep going. “
Indeed, this is the fourth year for Crean, and new athletic director Josh Brooks is going to want to see more progress in the program when it comes to the end-of-season evaluations.
To date, Crean has improved the Bulldogs’ SEC winning tally from his first year (2) to second (5) and third (7) after resuming a depressed basketball culture in 2018.
Georgia yet to make NCAA tournament under Crean – Second year, with Anthony Edwards, was cut short by the Covid pandemic after UGA defeated Ole Miss to open the SEC tournament.
Crean has, however, shown that he can recruit and develop elite talent.
Edwards, the No.1 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, picked Georgia over all schools across the country. Edwards left UGA praising his experience and the lessons learned from Crean.
A year earlier, Crean helped polish the skills of Nicolas Claxton, the 31st overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft.
More than once every Georgia basketball fan has wondered what could have happened if Claxton had stayed on for his junior season and teamed up with Edwards.
Free college agency
Now, of course, the Division I programs MEAN over half (7) of their rosters rotating from season to season via the transfer portal and NCAA granting immediate eligibility.
What amounts to free agency varsity basketball has changed the game, as a glance at Georgia’s roster might indicate.
Crean has 10 newcomers playing for the Bulldogs this season, seven acquired through the NCAA transfer portal.
Recruiting remains the cornerstone in building a strong basketball base, and that’s why it was more than remarkable to see real freshman Christian Wright go to the Tigers.
Wright, pressed into an emergency start with the transfer of veteran point guard Gonzaga Aaron Cook too ill to play, scored 17 points, fired 6 rebounds and provided 3 assists against Memphis in 38 minutes.
Perhaps most impressive, Wright only had one turnover for a UGA team that came in on the 303rd night in the country in terms of turnover margin.
It’s a sign of transfer times that the basketball behemoths of North Carolina and Michigan rank even lower in this category.
There is no doubt that college basketball is in transition, and the ability to identify and attract talent from the transfer portal – and have a system for immediate success – is a new requirement for success.
The great representative of Crean
Crean could be in an excellent position to capitalize on his reputation for developing NBA talent – Dwyane Wade, Victor Oladipo, Yogi Ferrell, Cody Zeller, Claxton and Edwards – and his friendly and fast-paced style of play.
Many of Georgia’s top players are identified early in the Atlanta AAU ranks and heavily recruited before leaving the state.
But the transfer portal allows a return “home” to play for Crean while adding a degree from one of the top 20 public universities.
Georgia center Braelen Bridges and striker Jailyn Ingram are two examples, transferred from UIC and Florida Atlantic.
The 6-11 Bridges held their own in the paint, scoring 10 points and grabbing 4 rebounds against the long, athletic Tigers.
Ingram, who chose basketball over FBS’s main football offerings, made his way to 10 points and 6 rebounds.
Beating a basketball blue blood like Memphis is a sure-fire way for Crean to start packing Stegeman Coliseum, who had a respectable crowd of 7,147 midweek Wednesday.
Crean had always said that this team was the toughest working group he had ever had and that eventually the blows would start to fall.
And the shots will have to keep dropping, and the team will have to keep improving, with Crean looking for what would be his 10th appearance in an NCAA tournament.