ATHENS — Josh Brooks wanted “a proven winner, someone who had tournament success,” and that led him to pick up the phone and set up a Zoom call with then-Florida coach Mike White last Sunday.
That’s right, according to Brooks and White, this new Georgia men’s basketball hire was less than three days in the making before White was officially introduced on Tuesday at Stegeman Coliseum.
Brooks said Georgia had taken note of White before, and his approach to the then-Florida coach on Sunday was direct.
Would White be interested in taking over a Georgia basketball program that has not made the NCAA tournament since 2015 or officially won an NCAA tourney game since 1996?
RELATED: 3 things to know about new Georgia coach Mike White, why it could work
White, whose Gators had their NCAA tourney bubble burst three days earlier with a buzzer-beating loss to red-hot Texas A&M at the SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament, was interested enough to accept an invitation to join a Zoom call with Brooks and UGA President Jere Morehead.
“We had a lengthy conversation, a productive conversation, and one that excited me a lot,” White said. “At that point, I was pretty quick to jump on board. I wanted to be a Bulldog at that point, I felt really good about it.”
White’s introduction at Stegeman Coliseum came in a pep-rally style with cheerleaders, dance team members, the pep band, balloons and a student-rooting section in the stands chanting “We like Mike! We like Mike!”
Georgia basketball momentum has to start somewhere, and Brooks took it upon himself to challenge and rally the modest crowd who showed up to the public event.
RELATED: Mike White sees ‘limitless’ future for Georgia basketball
“We need everyone to be all in on Georgia basketball,” Brooks said, “and that starts with me.”
Stegeman Coliseum is the second-oldest basketball arena in the SEC, and the third-smallest.
But Brooks said improvements will continue to be made. Most recently, the concourse, seating, scoreboard and game day locker rooms have been updated.
Beyond that, Brooks pledged to work with both White and women’s basketball coach Joni Taylor to help both find success in recruiting while continuing to improve the facilities.
White’s hiring, came as a surprise after Cleveland State head coach Dennis Gates was considered the front-runner, was considerably more of a production.
As noted, by design.
“I want to let everyone in the country know to beware of Georgia basketball,” Brooks said, “because the Dawgs are coming.”
Brooks later conceded that what’s viewed as “success”” for Georgia basketball is somewhat of a “moving target,” in light of the starting point.
White said Georgia will attack the portal like every other program, but beyond that, there are no shortcuts or substitutes for hard work.
“We’ve got to build, it’s not going to happen overnight,” White said. “We’ve got to grow. We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to bet better offensively. We’ve got to get better defensively. Our chemistry, our basketball character, our level of accountability has all got to be elite in this league to be competitive.
“This is now the best basketball league in college basketball. We have the potential to get it done. We are going to get it done, and then hopefully in a few years I’m being asked questions about maintaining it.”
Here’s the rest of the Q&A with White, which was conducted in front of the crowd at Stegeman Coliseum on Tuesday afternoon:
On when he decided that he may be interested in making a move…
“It happened Sunday. I mean, it literally happened within a day. I was excited to get a call that Josh wanted to have a conversation. Josh reached out. We had a really productive conversation with he and President Morehead and the cabinet, the search committee. We had a really lengthy conversation, and from there, again, it was -- it moved very, very quick. I jumped at it. Just to be blunt with you, I just jumped at the opportunity, and before you know it, six, eight hours later Kira and I were sitting these kids down telling them that we’re moving to Athens, Georgia. Anybody got a seven-bedroom?”
On knowing that staying within the SEC was the right decision…
“Sure. I’ve been asked that, and I’ve thought that, right? As you are always evaluating the college basketball industry, it is a little bit more rare. For what reason, I don’t know. At the end of the day people move from this league to that league. Sometimes people move up. Sometimes people move laterally. Sometimes people move down. Whether it’s in a different league or your current league, I don’t know at the end of the day whether or not that’s a factor. For me this is not about the place that I was. This is about Georgia. This is about an opportunity and a place that I really wanted to be. "
On if he needed some assurances that the commitment and resources would be available to him at Georgia…
“Absolutely. Yes. Everything that I was looking for, everything that I wanted to hear I have heard and I have seen, and that continued today throughout all of the meetings I’ve had with a bunch of these administrators. Had a really, really productive day, and I already feel like, to a certain extent, we’ve already hit the ground running. We’ve got a lot of work to do, obviously, and as a family we’ve got to get settled. We’ve got to get a staff in place. We’ve got to get to the point where we’ve got a little bit of normalcy, but when we do, I’m going to be about as happy a camper as there is. I’m just fired up to get to that point.”
On facing Georgia this past season and what he liked about the team…
“First off, it’s such a hard league now, and even the nonconference schedules, it’s part of the increase in production and analytics and numbers, so on and so forth. The postseason opportunities with the Southeastern Conference and the fact that we’re all scheduling very, very difficultly. As I was talking, I ran into Jabri (Abdur-Rahim) earlier today, and we talked about the injuries that these guys have had and some of the injuries that we had, and everyone is dealing with stuff. It’s tough night in and night out. You’re playing high, high level teams. Because Georgia didn’t win the SEC this year doesn’t mean that they weren’t a very good team. You know what I mean? This is incredibly difficult. We had our deficiencies. Just about every team in our league had some deficiencies. Obviously, we’ve got to tighten up a little bit in some areas. I look forward to studying film a little bit more and moving -- you know, starting backward and breaking stuff down defensively, offensively on the glass. We can sit here and talk about deficiencies too. There’s a lot of good players over here, and from everything that I hear, really good young men. I thought that they did a lot of things really, really well, but there’s just a fine line. There’s a fine line, man, between winning and losing, and we’re here to try to help facilitate that. "
On recruiting in the state of Georgia…
“I think the State of Georgia is as fertile as any state in the country, in the country, to recruit to. I’ve known that for a long time. That’s why when you come recruit the State of Georgia, you often see universities represented from a lot of different places throughout the country, and so we’re going to recruit nationally, but obviously, we’re going to start here in this state and in Atlanta and Greater Atlanta, obviously, and hit all the high schools throughout this state. Then we’re also going to recruit the rest of the Southeast, and, again, I think that this brand is so strong that you can go a lot of places in this country and Georgia resonates.”
On telling his children they would be moving to Georgia….
“Yeah. Seven years. Our oldest is 14, so they had a great experience there. They did. The community was really good to my wife and kids. Specifically the Queen of Peace community. I’ll forever be grateful, Kira and I both. There’s some excitement. There’s some reservation too. What are we going to do with our Gator gear? I can give it to my friend, and maybe that one said, hey, let’s go to Goodwill. How do we go to the press conference without some red and black and white, and can I get some new gear? After they went to the bookstore today, we got ‘em. They’re geared up. “We’ve got stuffed animals and backpacks and hats and sweatshirts. They’re really, really fired up.
On building a coaching staff and the new identity of the team…
“Toughness, togetherness, again, accountability. In our sport what’s really unique is 13 scholarship players, whether or not you’ve got 15 or 16 on a team depends. Can you get that entire roster or at least most to sell out to winning above all? It’s something that we all struggle with in our sport. There’s five guys on the court. Only one guy can be touching the basketball. Only one guy is going to get a shot that possession. Five are going to start. Who is going to come off the bench? There’s only going to be one leading scorer. How do you get guys to sell out to either that university and that name across the front of the chest, right, or to each other, to each other, to the love for one another to win above all else. Those are things we’ll continue to preach here, as I have in my last couple of stops. We all have split second opportunities to make the right play offensively and defensively throughout a 40-minute game. There’s hundreds of them. The old cliche -- and guys don’t want to hear it quite as much. A little more harsh to hear. “Do your job,” right, the old Bill Belichick. We’re going to have split second jobs throughout the game, and that’s accountability, and we talk about that a lot. Did you block out or not? Did you close out with high hands or not? Did you sprint back and communicate or not? We’re going to practice doing that at a high level every single day. Kind of a snap shot of some of the things that we’ll preach to team. What are we looking for in staff? The first part of your question. Guys that can recruit. Guys that can coach. Guys that can connect. Good teammates with one another. Above all else, great mentors. Great people that represent it place, that will help mentor these young men into the potential leaders that these guys can become, and, obviously, mentoring young men into men.”