DESTIN, Fla. — Tom Crean knew what he was getting into when he took over the Georgia men’s basketball program last year.
The task of the former Indiana and Marquette coach didn’t get any easier when versatile Nic Claxton elected to keep his name in the NBA Draft.
“We’re in a rebuild situation, but we knew that, we knew that going in,” Crean told DawgNation in an exclusive interview at the SEC Spring Meetings at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa on Wednesday.
Six Georgia seniors exhausted their eligibility last season and three others have since transferred. And now, the 6-foot-11 Claxton is leaving the Bulldogs after earning second-team All-SEC honors.
Crean was brought to Georgia to transform the program. The Bulldogs have made just one NCAA Tournament appearance the past eight years — in 2015 — and next season wouldn’t appear promising.
The Bulldogs have made just one NCAA Tournament appearance the past eight years — in 2015 — and next season wouldn’t appear promising.
Claxton led the Bulldogs in scoring (13 points per game), rebounding (8.6 per game), blocks (81), steals (34), minutes played (31.6 per game) and was second in assists (58).
Georgia, as a team, returns just 37 percent of its rebounds (individual) from a season ago, 22.7 percent of its blocked shots and 44 percent of its scoring.
Crean has recruited what’s ranked as the No. 8 signing class in the nation in 2019, bolstered on Wednesday by the addition of 6-foot-10 post commit Rodney Howard.
Rayshaun Hammonds, a 6-8, 235-pound rising junior, is getting close to 100 percent after finishing last season with an injured foot. Hammonds is Georgia’s leading returning scorer (12.1 points) and rebounder (6.1).
But Crean concedes, there’s no quick fix for losing Claxton.
“There’s no immediate answer,” Crean said. “You develop the guys that you have and you continue to recruit.
“We have to figure out a way to play without him. Whether that’s through recruiting, whether that’s through what we have, whether it’s through scheme, whatever it is, because he was a really unique player for us.”
As tough as it is, Crean said he’s happy for Claxton and will continue to support him as he pursues his NBA dreams.
“I’m happy for him, that’s what you coach him for,” Crean said. “There’s a disappointment level that you’re not going to coach him on a daily basis and be a part of his life like that.
“But if somebody can leave after two years of college, and he did a fine job academically, but to be in a position to make that kind of money and be in pursuit and live a lifelong dream, you can’t step away from that.”
Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean
DawgNation at SEC Spring Meetings