UGA basketball: How do signees feel about Tom Crean?

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The Covington News reported that Tom Crean’s first recruiting call to a prospect after he took the UGA job was to 5-star point guard Ashton Hagans. (Curtis Compton/ AJC)

Tom Crean spoke to JoJo Toppin on the day after his first press conference as Georgia’s basketball coach. Toppin already had signed to play for the program back in November during the early period.

He had questions. So did Crean. Crean had a lot to share. It did seem a lot like that opening statement when he met the press in Athens.

Toppin feels that call lasted about 30 minutes. He supplied a pretty detailed string of words to describe that first interaction with Crean.

Determined. Energetic. Happy. Devoted. Relieved. Passionate.

“He sounded really energetic about going into next season,” Tippen said. “He talked to me about how he’d been researching me and getting to know my film and my playing style and he sounded really excited to get to it.”

The 6-foot-7 forward already was excited after that call. He was primed to go crash the boards and finish above the rim in Stegeman Coliseum right then.

“I’m with the guy,” Toppin said. “He really wants to win. I can respect anybody who sounds like he wants to win as much as he does. It was kind of a mutual feeling for both of us.”

What about assistant coach Jonas Hayes? 

Toppin also spoke to Georgia assistant Jonas Hayes that day. That name came up in that first phone chat with Crean.

“That was a topic,” Toppin said. “He said he took a real liking to Jonas. So I would personally be surprised if he does not come back. We spoke on that topic, and he said that Jonas was a really great guy, and they had a good conversation.”

Toppin wants Hayes to return. That was clear, but Toppin also feels Hayes will be back on the Georgia bench for the 2018-2019 season.

We’ll see if that works itself out going forward. It still sounds like Crean’s first big recruit for Georgia could be retaining that up-and-coming assistant from last year’s team.

There was a human element to that Tom Crean call

Toppin is a 3-star recruit who rates as the nation’s No. 59 small forward for 2018. He’s a very good player, but he’s not among the nation’s true elite. At least as far as those rankings go.

He needed that call to feel out a few things. Did Crean want him? Did he fit the new UGA? It does not work out all the time. When coaching jobs change hands after players sign in the early period, the player and school sometimes part ways.

Toppin wanted to still be wanted by Georgia. There would be no mutual release from his letter of intent. That was settled quickly.

JoJo Toppin, a 3-star signee for 2018, wanted to still be wanted by Tom Crean and UGA. (JoJo Toppin/Special)

“It was a relief because (after that) now I got to talk to my new coach,” Toppin said. “Now I knew what he wanted. Now that I have talked to him and it seems like we are on the same page. It really was relieving. Now I can focus on my workouts and prepare my tools for when I get to campus.”

He wanted to know how he would fit into his system. That was one of his first questions.

“He made it clear that he plays freshmen,” Toppin said. “He said if you put the time in and the work in then you will benefit his system and he told me that my playing style goes well with what he is trying to do with Georgia.”

What will be that style?

“He said that we are trying to speed things up and get quicker in transition,” Toppin said. “That’s what I am known for. I can run the floor and get buckets in transition using my athleticism and making that right play at any time on the floor.”

That was something he really hoped to hear.

“There was a shaky feeling,” Toppin said. “Anybody would have that. But besides that, I love Georgia. It was kind of shaky. If he said he didn’t want me, that would have hurt me because Georgia was that school where I really wanted to be. I think Georgia is the place where I can make my dreams come true.”

Toppin plays to enroll in the summer. He also heard from the other signee in the 2018 class. That was the 6-9 forward Amanze Ngumezi.

“Amanze feels the same way,” Toppin said. “Coach Crean hit him up the same way he did with me. We talked about it. He’s feeling good about him, too. We are all on the same page with the new direction with Georgia basketball.”

The Norcross standout believes the Bulldogs will be able to sign two more players for next season. Toppin feels the Bulldogs still need a point guard to finish out the 2018 class.

But it will not be the one everyone has been talking about.

A few interesting things with 5-star PG Ashton Hagans

Ashton Hagans is the name to know right now with UGA basketball recruiting.

As we begin to give more space to Crean’s recruiting efforts, the eventual Hagans decision will be an early read on what Crean can do at Georgia.

The in-state gem ranks as the nation’s No. 1 point guard and as the No. 8 overall prospect for 2019 on the 247Sports composite standard.

The Covington News reported that Tom Crean’s first recruiting call to a prospect after he took the UGA job was to 5-star point guard Ashton Hagans. (Curtis Compton/ AJC)

He backed off his pledge to UGA once reality began to seep in regarding Mark Fox and his future.

Crean is actually recruiting around the Atlanta area Thursday. I’d expect Hagans to be one of those first visits on the trail.

He should see him Thursday. Introductions will not be necessary.

That’s because Hagans was Crean’s first recruiting call as coach. That information was reported by his hometown paper on March 17. Hagans detailed that call to Gabriel Stovall of The Covington News. 

“I was the first one he called,” Hagans told Stovall. “We had a good talk, and he was telling me that he loved my game and the way I play.”

DawgNation’s Seth Emerson also reported last week that Crean had a previous relationship with Hagans that dated back to his time away from college coaching. The newly minted Mr. Georgia Basketball for 2018 summed that up, as well.

“Actually, we’ve had a relationship before this,” Hagans told the News. “We’ve had a relationship this summer at the Adidas camps and all that. And once he found out he was going to interview for the job at Georgia, he contacted me, and we just kind of picked up our relationship from where we built it over the summer.”

Hagans has also set the record straight on the matter of whether or not he would reclassify to 2019. There had been a lot of buzz about that. He did so in his personal blog on USA Today Sports. 

He will remain in the class of 2019. That will give Crean and every other big-name coach in the country a chance to recruit Hagans to their programs.

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