ATHENS — Right now a lot of Georgia fans are probably excited and maybe a little anxious about National Signing Day for football, which begins tomorrow.
Nothing is going to happen — or not happen — on Wednesday that will have a meaningful impact on the Bulldogs’ football fortunes in 2019. So unimportant is anything that transpires during this second signing period for football that Georgia coach Kirby Smart is not even going to hold a press conference. The Bulldogs may sign as few as one or two players or as many as four. But whatever they end up doing, Smart is just going to have UGA Sports Communications send out out a statement, and that will be that.
You want some real recruiting drama? Then you need to follow what’s going on with Georgia’s men’s basketball program.
What Anthony Edwards decides to do this coming Monday WILL have a profound impact on Georgia’s basketball future, immediate and otherwise. Not to overstate it, but the decision of the 6-foot-5 guard known as “Ant Man” could set the course for the Bulldogs under first-year coach Tom Crean.
Edwards — the No. 1-ranked prospect in America — is that kind of player. Think Dominique Wilkins in the 1980s. And Crean and his staff are treating him such.
None of this is meant to downgrade what the Bulldogs have going on in football. Recruiting, as Smart makes infinitely clear day in and day out, is the lifeblood of the program and that’s always the case for the Bulldogs. But the way football recruiting is set up these days, the early signing period is now where the real work is done.
The Bulldogs signed 22 players in late December, 14 of whom already have enrolled and started working out with the team. Without adding a single recruit to that number, Georgia’s football recruiting class already has been judged to be No. 2 in the nation in overall strength. Unless the Bulldogs add a couple or three 5-star prospects — and our resident recruiting experts tell us they will not — Georgia will not be able to overtake No. 1 Alabama in the recruiting rankings (not that such things really matter) or otherwise change the program’s trajectory in any significant way.
Bottom line, there is not expected to be anything in the way of difference-making to be made in football recruiting on Wednesday.
Conversely, there is potential historical significance to be made in basketball on Monday.
Not only is Edwards the No. 1-ranked basketball recruit in the nation this year, he has been described to me as a generational type of player, the best to come through the state in a long, long time, even better than the Bulldogs’ last 5-star sensation, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Yes, Edwards is one of those “one-and-done” guys that have been paraded through Kentucky, Duke and North Carolina by the dozens over the years. But the difference is this kid apparently isn’t interested in becoming just another name to pass through the banner-hung halls of those regal programs on their way to the league. He wants to make a major impact somewhere. And, by all accounts, he has the type of game to not only be great himself, but to lift others to greatness.
“He’s one of the few guys since Carmelo Anthony went to Syracuse who can carry a team and immediately make it a postseason contender,” said Dan McDonald, a contributing basketball analyst for Rivals.com and program director of LakePoint Basketball camps. “He’s as good a prospect I’ve seen in the state in the 10 years I’ve been doing this.”
By all accounts, Edwards going to either Georgia or Florida State. He is also considering Kentucky and North Carolina, according to an invitation sent out Tuesday. Edwards will make the announcement during a ceremony Monday morning at his high school, Holy Spirit Prep in Buckhead.
According to McDonald, the Seminoles have long been considered the front-runner for Edwards. Noted recruiter Charlton Young, who brought great players like Derrick Favors to Georgia Tech under Paul Hewitt, has known Edwards for years and made him a top priority since Edwards first broke in as a young star for the Atlanta XPress AAU program.
But Georgia has made up a lot of ground in a short time, according to McDonald. From the time Crean arrived in Athens last March, he and his staff have made it clear to Edwards that there is no more important prospect on their radar and that the Bulldogs have no problem with that “one-and-done” thing. It’s also no coincidence that Crean employs assistant coaches such as Amir Abdur-Rahim and Chad Dollar. The two Atlanta natives have long known about Edwards and his family and are well-versed in recruiting the Atlanta AAU scene.
Crean’s pitch to Edwards has been simple: Whatever you think you could do at any of those other places, you can do the same thing at Georgia. He points to his time at Marquette and Indiana and great NBA players he has developed such as a Dwayne Wade and Victor Olapido.
Could it be a mere coincidence that when asked to describe to what great players does his game compare that Edwards points to Wade and Olapido? Both are dribble-driving scorers and shooters who take pride in also being able to distribute the ball to teammates. Sounds like Crean might’ve already gotten into his head.
Crean can’t talk specific prospects when it comes to recruiting, but he’s always happy to discuss his philosophy and past accomplishments, which he did on Tuesday.
“There is so much here,” Crean said of the University of Georgia. “There is so much opportunity here in the program, at the school, life after basketball here. That is what we are telling everybody. And there is. I think the more that people get a chance to come and see it the better it is, that starts to speak for itself. Again, do we have to show people what we’ve done and it’s not here just yet? Absolutely. We knew that coming in. We’ve been doing that from the beginning, but we are also able to show some real improvement in here even though the record isn’t reflective in it, but it will. It will.”
Certainly nobody’s going to sign with Georgia based on its current record. The Bulldogs are 10-11 overall and 1-7 in SEC play as they head to Tuscaloosa for Wednesday’s game against Alabama (13-8, 4-4). But the number Crean is more interested in discussing at this juncture is the six sellouts they’ve had at Stegeman Coliseum and the average home attendance of 8,850.
Crean believes that type of fan excitement and home-court atmosphere coupled with talent the likes Edwards and players like him could give the Bulldogs a winning formula — and quick.
“[Recruits] are getting to see what we are talking about with the crowds. They are getting to see the excitement of it and that people are here,” Crean said. “Whatever they are hearing on the outside, whatever they thought it was or whatever other schools might be telling them about — ‘Can you do it there? Are they going to win? Are people going to care?’ — they see a different thing. … We are trying to win the league. We’re not trying to recruit to get into the race. We are trying to recruit to win the league.”
A player like Edwards can make that happen in short order.
Georgia might or might not land a 5-star receiver or 4-star defensive back during National Signing Day on Wednesday. Eventually, they might even get to start a game for the Bulldogs.
But if Georgia somehow can nail down the commitment of Edwards on Monday, you’ll know immediately that things are going to be different for the Bulldogs basketball next year.