ATHENS — The Georgia Bulldogs are staring down the barrel of some pretty ugly history when it comes to the men’s basketball program. When you get back to the other side of Hugh Durham years, which begin in 1978, that’s some scary stuff to look at.
Yet to hear William Harold Jackson II talk about the experience he’s having under first-year coach Tom Crean, one would think the Bulldogs are trying to run down a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. The positivity is positively effusive.
“Everything’s improved,” said the guard better known as Turtle. “I mean, we bring a lot of energy in practice. We’re learning how to listen for what Coach Crean wants, and to give him what he wants from us. It’s unbelievable. Man, if I could just sit back and watch how he’s going to just improve this program, I mean, it’s going to be unbelievable.”
Of course, being a senior, any watching Turtle does is going to have to be from afar after this season. As for this season, his remarks certainly would have to fall in the category of incredibly optimistic in the context of what’s happening on the court in NCAA- and SEC-sanctioned basketball games.
The Bulldogs (10-16, 1-12 SEC) are losing way more of them than are winning. In fact, as they prepare for Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. tip at Ole Miss (TV: SEC Network; radio: WSB 750-AM & 95.5-FM), Georgia is in the midst of the school’s worst SEC losing streak in more than 40 years.
The latest defeat in what has grown into an 11-game SEC losing streak was the most excruciating of all. Georgia fought back from what had been a 17-point deficit with less than 9 seconds to play when Jordan Harris was called for a foul with 0.5 seconds to go. The Bulldogs were left to stand helplessly as Mississippi State won the game from the foul line, 68-67.
The reality now is, Georgia will be fortunate to win another game. Today’s road game is against the Rebels (18-8, 8-5), who beat the Bulldogs by 16 in Athens two weeks ago. Next week, brings Auburn to Athens and sends Georgia back on the road to Florida. The final two are at home versus Missouri and away at South Carolina.
The Bulldogs’ best shot is against Missouri, which enters this stretch run with just three conference wins. If Georgia can’t manage another W, it will be its worst conference record since going 1-13 in 1956.
But then there’s this: Georgia is expected to break it’s all-time attendance record when Auburn visits The Steg on Wednesday. To date, the Bulldogs have drawn 133,683 spectators to their 15 home games. That’s bodies through the doorways, by the way, not pregame sellouts. With two games remaining, that’s just 5,888 shy of the school record set in 2015-16. Georgia has been averaging 8,912 per home game, including eight sellouts of its 10,500-seat arena.
Imagine when Crean fields a truly competitive team, much less the championship contender he plans to build.
Where’s this coming from? Jackson says it’s a result of all that positivity.
“Well, I can only speak for myself and what I see,” Jackson said. “… Everybody’s doing great, having a very cheerful [demeanor] in practice. I mean, our practices have been unbelievable. Like [Thursday] was just great. [Crean] still brings positivity that’s out of this world because his mindset is just so ‘go, go, go,’ which makes him a great coach.
“He’s not worried about records. He’s not worried about media. He’s not worried about anything outside of basketball, which is our main focus, too.”
It’s pretty amazing when you think about it. Amid Georgia’s worst basketball season in decades, Crean has been able to secure the commitment of the top prospect in the country in Anthony Edwards and two other Top 100 players while setting a UGA record for home attendance.
Is this guy a magician or what?
Nah, Crean says. Just staying positive and focusing on what he can control.
I’m going to step out of the way here so you can just read one of his rants of positivity:
“To be honest with you, if you don’t have that kind of energy, you’ve got to go stand on the sidelines. We have to get better, right? But I think, ultimately, when players are in an environment where they’re improving — and they know they’re improving — that’s a huge energy tick for them. That’s what we’ve got to continue to do. And there’s no question we’re right there on the result; we’re right there on the result. But they’ve got to keep understanding that everything that we’re going through — the process, so to speak — is what’s going to give them the chance at those results. So, you cannot back off, you just cannot back off, because practice is mere games on many different levels, and that’s something that we have to continue to build on. We’ve got a great group of guys who work very hard and it’s our job to make sure that when they look at me as a head coach or at our coaching staff, that they see energy coming right back at them. But the standards that comes with that, when it comes to the effectiveness that you want to play with, practice with, we can’t get away from that either. So, they’re not ‘rah-rah’ sessions as much as they are ‘Let’s get better, let’s really work at it.’ You know, it’s an honor to play for Georgia, but it’s an honor to practice to get better to represent Georgia, just as it’s an honor to coach for Georgia. That’s how I look at it everyday.”
That might come off as hokey at some places, but it literally manufactures energy and optimism in Crean’s players. That’s sorely needed with the results being what they have been this season.
For a guy like Turtle, a senior on his way out, it’s something he can’t get enough of. The thought of what Georgia can be, even when he’s not around anymore, excites him.
“We’re not worried about anything at all because we know we’ve got a great coach and a great system,” Jackson said. “Georgia is a great program, and if we can just stick together and put our great moments into a whole game, I feel like, man, we’ll be unstoppable. …
“The sky’s the limit if we can just stay together and stick all these things together and just keep listening to Coach Crean.”