ATHENS — It was a coming out party like no other for first-year Georgia men’s basketball coach Tom Crean Friday night at Stegeman Coliseum.
The “Stegmania” men’s and women’s basketball exhibition event drew 5,429 fans, conveniently wrapped into the Bulldogs’ Homecoming Week festivities on the eve of the Georgia-Vanderbilt football game.
Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean
Entertainment included Hip Hot artists Ayo and Teo performing in the midst of a dance-off between the men’s and women’s team. A 3-point shootout and slam dunk contest highlighted the teams’ skills after their spotlight introductions.
The real action doesn’t start for the men’s team until an Oct. 18 exhibition at Alabama-Birmingham. A Nov. 1 home exhibition against West Georgia leads up to the season-opening game on Nov. 9 in Athens against Savannah State.
Crean, who took Marquette to the Final Four (2003) and rebuilt Indiana into a Big Ten powerhouse that enjoyed a 10-week stint as the nation’s No. 1-ranked team (2012-13), has visions of taking Georgia to the top.
“You come and we’re gonna win,” Crean promised the crowd. “We’ve got to have that kind of support and passion to become of the most respected and feared teams in the nation …. you will make the difference in every step of that, every step of the way, who’s with me?”
A trip to the NCAA tournament would be a start.
The Bulldogs have made the NCAA tourney field just one time in the past seven years, and Georgia hasn’t won an NCAA tournament game since opening round win over Murray State in 2002.
The SEC took a substantial step last season, getting a record eight teams into the NCAA field, and more of the same is expected this year.
The Bulldogs, however, are nowhere to be found in any of the ridiculously early March Madness bracket projections.
Georgia has not been projected higher than 13th in the 14-team league in any of the preseason publications, all of which surely noted former SEC Player of the Year Yante Maten moving on to the NBA.
The Bulldogs return three staters off last season’s 18-15 (7-11 SEC) team: point guard Turtle Jackson, center Derek Ogbeide and forward Rayshaun Hammonds. A four-man recruiting class includes Top 125 prospects Amanze Ngumezi (112) and Ignas Sargiunas (121).
Crean, wearing a “Georgia vs. All y’all” T-shirt, is embracing the challenge.
“We’re going to build this and we’re not going to take a backseat, and I know we have a lot of work to do and it’s gonna take time,” Crean said. “There’s people out there that are’t quite sure, or telling recruits that we’re not going to be able to do it, that kind of stuff excites me, it always has.
“Everything is here to get this to be a very successful program and that’s what we’re looking forward to building.”
SEC average home attendance 2017-18
1 Kentucky 23,461 (No. 1 in the nation)
2. Arkansas 15,247 (12th)
3. Tennessee 13,636 (20th)
4. South Carolina 13,395 (21st)
5. Alabama 11,947 (27th)
6. Florida 10,690 (35th)
7. Missouri 9,930 (40th)
8. Vanderbilt 9,635 (45th)
9. Texas A&M 8,161 (60th)
10. Auburn 7,832 (63rd)
11. Ole Miss 7,396 (68th)
12. Mississippi State 7,314 (69th)
13. Georgia 7,218 (71st)
14. LSU 7,019 (73rd)
Georgia men’s basketball coach Tom Crean