Why Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean embraces being at football school

Georgia basketball-UGA-Sahvir Wheeler
Georgia basketball freshman Sahvir Wheeler is a returning star expected to lead the Bulldogs this season.

ATHENS — Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean is on the verge of getting his new team together for the start of workouts next Monday, but he’ll have one eye out for football news like the rest of his fanbase this week.

The SEC athletic directors are meeting in Birmingham on Monday on the heels of the Big Ten and Pac-12 announcing they will play conference games only.

UGA athletic director Greg McGarity indicated league games-only has bee one of several proposals the SEC had been considering. The Big Ten and Pac-12 announcements could accelerate the league’s discussion on pursuing or declining a similar model.

Crean will be watching closely.

Crean’s wife is the sister of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Baltimore Ravens coach Jon Harbaugh, and he loves being a part of an athletic department that features a championship football program.

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“I’ve always wanted to be a part of a team like this, I love being a part of a  great athletic department, but also being a football fan,” Crean told DawgNation. “I was a Kirby Smart follower and fan long before I became a coworker.”

The Marquette program Crean led to a Final Four didn’t have a football program, and Indiana has long been a traditional basketball powerhouse.

But Georgia, Crean understands, is a football royalty.

“Kirby being who he is, and what he’s building, that was only a major A-plus, plus to me to come here,” Crean said. “I’ve never worked anywhere where I felt inferior in any kind of program sense.

“When I was at Marquette, Al McGuire was still living and I got year and half with him,” Crean said. “Then I went to Indiana, and the Bob Knight legend was still alive and well, and he was the all-time winningest coach at the time.

“So I always embraced that, that meant something to me.”

And now, Crean is proud to be a part of the same athletic department as Smart, and loves seeing the head football coach court side at Bulldogs’ home games.

Crean’s massive rebuild, meanwhile, will be back underway in earnest in a week.

WATCH: Sahvir Wheeler weighs in on racial climate at Georgia, in Athens

The NCAA Division I council last month approved required summer workouts to begin for men’s and women’s program’s on July 20.

Bulldogs’ basketball fans have helped crate momentum in Crean’s program, just as he envisioned.

Crean said witnessing how Georgia fans attended a spring football game was all he needed to see to believe he could draw the crowds he has the past two seasons to Stegemen Coliseum in the midst of the program overhaul.

“The greatest visual for me, as a live Georgia coach, was my first spring game, and when I saw that G-Day Game, and I saw those people there,” Crean said.

“It has been a constant (thought that) we have to build that in basketball. This means too much to these people for it not to have it mean that much in basketball.”

Georgia set a single-season attendance record last year amid a .500 season that featured marquee wins and along with heartbreaking defeats.

It didn’t take a statistician to realize that if Georgia had shot around 34-percent from 3-point range last season — instead of 30 percent (322nd out of 350 teams), the Bulldogs might have had an NCAA tourney resume.

As it was, the NCAA tournament didn’t take place on account of COVID-19.

UGA was left on deck for an SEC tourney game against Florida after destroying Ole Miss in the league tourney opener on March 11.

The Bulldogs don’t have any players on their roster left over from the Mark Fox era after junior Rayshaun Hammonds opted to go pro.

Earning an NCAA tournament bid is next on Crean’s to-do list for the Bulldogs, and he’ll be counting on three graduate transfers to help make that happen this season.

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