NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tom Crean wasn’t ready to get ahead of himself Wednesday night, his first season as Georgia’s head coach mere minutes behind him.
“The season just ended. What do I expect? I expect a team that we just keep getting better and better,” Crean said after Georgia was eliminated by Missouri in the SEC tournament, 71-61, bringing an 11-21 season to an end.
Crean, who a USA Today coaching salaries story indicated ranks 16th in the nation in annual compensation ($3.25 million), said he liked the toughness his team showed this season.
“There’s a tenaciousness to them, there’s a toughness that’s grown,” said Crean, whose $16 million buyout is the 8th highest in the nation. “They have a sticktoitiveness that will help this team in the future.”
What will help even more is if 6-foot-11 sophomore Nicolas Claxton returns for his junior season — and 6-8, 240-pound forward Rayshaun Hammonds has a healthy return from the season-ending foot surgery he underwent last Thursday.
Crean has already signed two ESPN Top 100 players in the 2019 class, and top shooting guard Anthony Edwards has made a verbal commitment.
“It’s all about the recruiting, certainly, but it’s about the improvement of the guys on a daily level, and we’ll get to that, we’ll get to that at some point,” Crean said. “I have no doubt in my mind that this program is going to be on an uptick.”
Crean said the team will have a week off and then the returning players will be back to work, and he’s not ready to look beyond the task at hand.
“I haven’t been here a year yet, so I don’t put a lot on hypotheticals, you have to stay true to focus,” Crean said. “There was a lot asked of them, there was a lot of changes … were we missing some things? Probably.
“But there is no question what hurt us at the end here is losing Ray (Rayshaun Hammonds).”
Hammonds, who was second on the team in scoring and rebounding, said he hopes to be cleared by May and plans to be 100 percent by the start of fall practice.
Crean said he left his team with a positive message in the locker room late Wednesday night.
“They just had a record-breaking year for attendance, (and) at some point and time, that’s going to hit them,” Crean said. “Those people wouldn’t have been coming if they weren’t continuing to play hard and continuing to have opportunities to win games.
“It says a lot about the fans, the way that they kept coming, but it says a lot about them and the spirit and toughness that they continue to work to play with.”
Georgia coach Tom Crean
Georgia basketball boxscore vs. Missouri