WATCH: Sahvir Wheeler weighs in on racial climate, Georgia campus environment

Georgia basketball-UGA-Sahvir Wheeler
Georgia basketball point guard Sahvir Wheeler set a new school record last season for most assists by a freshman.

ATHENS —   Sahvir Wheeler is used to making split-second decisions on the court. As a point guard, it comes naturally, as last season he set the Georgia freshman record for assists.

Wheeler’s vision and perspective proved just as impressive off the court during a live wide-ranging interview Monday night with DawgNation.

Wheeler seems wise beyond his 19 years. The oldest of six children, Wheeler eloquently shared what he has drawn from the past two weeks of social and racial unrest in our nation.

“One of the most important things is this is a time when the country has to pivot, and it has put a magnifying glass on our actions, our deeds and our approach with others in relationships in general,” Wheeler said.

“It has come to question ourselves: What are we willing to tolerate? What is the catalyst of change? How are we looking upon other people from different walks of life, and how we can take a step forward in progression so everyone can be equal?”

Wheeler was still asking himself those questions on Monday, hours after Minneapolis police brutality victim George Floyd was memorialized in Houston.

Wheeler was cleared for the interview by Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean.

RELATED: How Tom Crean is building another winner at Georgia

“Absolutely, I’m comfortable with Sahvir doing this interview, it’s an important time for him to be heard,” Crean said, bucking the trend of controlling collegiate coaches who keep their players muted.

“There’s no fear at all because I know his heart … when you trust a kid’s heart, you don’t worry.”

Return to Athens

The Georgia men’s basketball team is still on hold, as far as when they will return to Athens for offseason conditioning.

Wheeler is eager to get to work with teammates, new and returning, with visions of an NCAA tournament berth next season.

But what of Athens and the UGA campus, Wheeler was asked, and his perception of the environment for young black athletes?

RELATED: Wheeler comfortable taking shot under pressure in final seconds

“I’m not entirely sure how the community will be when we get back, but from my experience as a freshman coming into my first summer at Georgia last year, the environment is so welcoming,” Wheeler said.

“Everyone welcomes you with open arms, that was one of the biggest things that attracted me to Georgia. It’s a family. It’s one big family, and no matter where you are in Athens, guys recognize you.

“That can seem like a bad thing, but to me that’s the best thing, just knowing you belong to a community and they accept you.”

Wheeler said it goes beyond the sports community, where he sees athletes on a daily basis at the training facilities or the academic support center.

“Everyone supports UGA …. you don’t just want to be friends with only athletes, you want to branch out, make new connections and make new friends,” Wheeler said. “Because at some point the ball stops bouncing and you still have another 30, 40 years of your life left to live, hopefully.

“So coming into Georgia seeing that was really big, and I’ve really enjoyed that.”

Hoop dreams

Wheeler understands what fans see when they look at basketball, in terms of it being a program that has made just one NCAA tourney appearance (2015) the past eight years.

“I think the media thing is to look at the record, and see a .500 team and say ‘they are so-so and they’re not going to be as good.’ “ Wheeler said. “But we have to look at it overall. Coach Crean’s first year he didn’t have 16 wins, he didn’t have six or seven wins in SEC play, you have to look at the progress.

“It’s not going to happen overnight.”

Wheeler said the Bulldogs weren’t counting themselves out of this year’s SEC tournament.

Georgia opened play in Nashville in resounding fashion with an 18-point win over Ole Miss before COVID-19 concerns brought sports activity to a halt on March 12.

RELATED: How the Bulldogs dominated Ole Miss at SEC tourney

“I know we could have done some big things in that SEC tournament,” Wheeler said. “I do think we have the legit pieces to come back, and guys are experienced.

“We’re going to surprise even some Georgia fans by how well we’re going to do.”

Leadership 101

Crean recognized the 5-foot-8 Wheeler as more than just a top 100 prospect in the 2019 class during the recruiting process. He also saw him as a leader.

Wheeler helped hold last season’s team together with his upbeat nature and charismatic presence.

It will be important for him to apply the same traits next season, with Anthony Edwards gone to the NBA and another shuffle underway with seven newcomers.

Wheeler takes it upon himself to continue to grow and find new ways to bring his team together.

“My teammates come from all walks of life,” Wheeler said. “We have some guys who come from outside the country, some guys have been from unfortunate situations, as far as their childhood growing up, and we have some guys from two-parent households.

“So it’s seeing what we all have in common, and seeing what can I do to better myself so I can serve them and make them feel they are a part of something.”

The Georgia fans who set a new single-season attendance record at Stegeman Coliseum last season already appreciate what Wheeler brought to the floor.

Monday night’s interview revealed Wheeler to be just as much of a leader in the UGA community.

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