ATHENS — Not quite ready for primetime. That’s all you can say about Georgia Bulldogs at the moment.
The players want it. The fans want it. Tom Crean wants it in the worst way. They just don’t have the horses to run with the likes of Kentucky just yet.
Or Tennessee. Or Auburn. Or Arizona State.
That’s not meant to be a negative take on Tuesday night’s game between the Bulldogs and No. 12 Kentucky. On the contrary. Despite the 69-49 loss, Georgia’s really not that far away from being ready for primetime. All they’re missing at the moment is a guard or two.
A point guard in particular.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, the point guard they needed was playing for the opponent Tuesday. Ashton Hagans who was born in Cartersville and prepped in Covington, was a longtime UGA commitment under former Georgia coach Mark Fox. He backed after Mark Fox was fired at the end of last season and Crean was unable to convince Hagans he should come anyway.
For the record, Kentucky John Calipari said before Tuesday’s game he didn’t “flip” Hagans. “The family contacted us,” Calipari insisted.
Doesn’t matter. Hagans was fair game, a casualty of Georgia’s decision to part with Fox.
“He’s a great player, but I wasn’t here,” Crean said of Hagans. “We only made one visit, he never came to Georgia. I’d feel different about it if he didn’t come here and we recruited him for years. He’s a really good player and a league full of good players, an outstanding freshman.”
The Georgia students knew Hagans’ story, so they booed him heartily every time he touched the ball and chanted “traitor, traitor, traitor!” every time Hagans went to the foul line. The problem was they were booing and chanting a lot, because Hagans had the ball in hands and was going to the line a lot.
And when he did, good things usually happened. Hagans was clearly motivated and might have been forcing the issue a bit early as he started off 1-of-7 shooting. But he eventually settled down and really made the Bulldogs feel his presence in the second half. He made a 3 and two fast-break layups in the first four minutes to push the Wildcats out to a sudden 13-point lead in what had been until then a tight game.
And he kept it up from there. Hagans was also the catalyst of another 8-0 run, scoring on a fast-break dunk off a steal and feeding E.J. Montgomery (he’s a 5-star freshman from Marietta, by the way) for an alley-oop on another nifty drive.
Hagans finished with a career-high 23 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals. Contrast that with the line of Georgia’s starting point guard. Turtle Jackson had 2 points on 1-of-8 shooting, 0-for-5 from 3 and 2 assists.
Everybody in Stegeman Coliseum was thinking the same thing: “Man, how much different would the Bulldogs look with Hagans on their team.”
“We didn’t emphasize anything about Ashton going into this game,” said Jackson, a senior who himself was once a 5-star signee. “His decision to go to Kentucky was based on him. It really wasn’t anything personal. I really don’t know him.”
Being out-played in the backcourt is a narrative that hasn’t been limited to the Kentucky game. Georgia was a victim of the same deficiency in its loss to No. 11 Auburn this past Saturday. It was not lost on anybody that the Tigers’ two leading scorers from that game both were guards from Georgia, Jared Harper of Mableton (22 points, 7 assists) and Bryce Brown of Tucker (15 points).
Crean knows this. He’s working on it. The Bulldogs reportedly are in on some of the top guards in the nation, many of whom seem to come from Greater Atlanta. A master identifier and acquirer of talent at Marquette and Indiana, Crean knows what great players look like and how to get them on his team.
Word on the street is Georgia is closing in hard on Anthony “Ant Man” Edwards, a 6-foot-5 guard from Atlanta who happens to the No. 1-ranked player in America. He’s in the process of re-classifying from the Class of 2020 to 2019, meaning he could sign before next season.
“We’ll get our breakthrough; we’ll find out breakthrough Georgia guy,” Crean proclaimed. “To my knowledge I don’t think E.J. Montgomery ever visited Georgia. I don’t think he’d ever been to the campus and we never got him up in our short time. But it is what it is. We’ll find some guys in the state who want to come, dip their toe in the water and say, ‘you know what, I can do great things here.’ We’ll get things built here and they’ll know they don’t have to go anywhere else.”
Trouble is, none of them are going to be in a Georgia uniform at the moment. They’re are a few in other uniforms, though, including the one in blue Tuesday.