ATHENS – Tyree Crump was lighting it up from outside during the Georgia basketball team’s summer trip to Spain. The freshman was draining 3s over and over, making a quick impression.
But then Andy Landers, the former Georgia women’s basketball coach who was on the trip, pulled Crump aside. In delicate terms, or maybe not so delicate, Landers told the freshman the importance of playing defense.
“I think Andy took that on himself,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said, smiling.
Georgia starts preseason practice on Sunday, facing fairly high expectations thanks to the combo of point guard J.J. Frazier and power forward Yante Maten. But it’s a set of new players – and one who the team is hoping is as good as new – who could dictate the team’s fate.
Crump, the hot-shooting freshman from Bainbridge, has drawn raves for his offense. The question is how much he’ll play early on if his defense is still lacking.
“He has a lot to learn, but he can really shoot the basketball, and that really often is a great thing,” Fox said. “Because when a guy can make a shot you can cover up a lot of mistakes.”
The team’s other freshman, guard Jordan Harris, could help off the bench. He’s about three inches taller than Crump, who’s 6-1, and while Harris doesn’t shoot as well, he drives to the basket and his defense may be better.
Two other additions, however, figure to play a lot more, at least early on.
One is Pape Diatta, a junior college transfer. Diatta is a 6-foot-7 forward who also shoots well, but his best attribute may be his passing.
“He’s got a great ability to see the floor,” Fox said. “His passing makes people better. That’s a welcome skill. But he also finishes plays. So learning where he fits in, and learning when to score it. He was I thought unselfish to a fault much of the summer. But I think his overall game will I really think help us.”
Georgia badly needs an infusion off offense, with Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann (the team’s third and fourth-leading scorers last year) having graduated. Crump’s outside shooting could slide him into Gaines’ role, while Diatta’s combination of shooting and passing are also intriguing.
Then there’s Juwan Parker, who’s not a new name: He was a starter for the first half of the 2014-15 season. But then an Achilles injury struck, and he ended up taking a medical redshirt last year, after recovery from surgery was slower than expected.
A healthy Parker would be a big lift for Georgia: While he’s not a high scorer, he’s a prototypical glue guy: A good passer, rebounder and defender who can also make an open shot if the defense forgets about him.
During that Spain trip, Parker looked tentative to Fox, until it was almost time to go home.
“Finally in the last game he looked like Juwan,” Fox said. “The versatility of his game, the ability to make a shot, rebound, defend, will be welcomed. Obviously his experience will be something that we’ll lean on too.”