Ahead of Georgia men's basketball’s return to full-team workouts on July 20, head coach Tom Crean is acutely aware of the challenges confronting his patchwork roster.
"Theres nothing normal obviously about this summer," Crean said in a July 15 press conference via Zoom, "There's nothing even remotely close to normal when it would come to how you would build your team. The most important thing we can do is to make sure that our skills, strength [and] all those things that the individual player can control is getting done."
Although his players have returned in waves, Crean said he expected his full roster — eight new players included — to arrive by next Monday. Sophomores Toumani Camara and Sahvir Wheeler and senior Virginia Tech transfer P.J. Horne, whom Crean said he has yet to meet in person, are the last stragglers still making their way to Athens.
The young Georgia team took a hit from cancelled spring workouts. Crean said those four to five weeks after the season usually offer an opportunity for freshmen with limited in-season looks to take big developmental strides.
“And that's what puts you in such a tough spot, because we got a lot of guys here that have not had a full year of college basketball, let alone the eight guys that we're bringing in,” Crean said.
With one of six rising sophomores seeing action in all 32 games last season, next Monday will give Crean his first look since March at how much work needs to be done ahead of 2020-21, especially given players’ unequal access to home workouts.
Beginning July 20, Crean can require up to eight hours each week of mandatory physical activity, including conditioning and a maximum of four hours of “skill instruction,” according to NCAA guidelines issued on June 16. It will be day one of fitting together his offseason pickups, his incoming recruits and his returning starters into a seamless unit.
Aside from game-readiness, another key challenge facing Crean and his team next season is cohesion. Crean spent the spring importing experience to his roster following the loss of every upperclassmen on his team other than rising junior Tye Fagan.
While he added three upperclassmen transfers to one of the youngest teams in the SEC, Crean said leadership next year will not divide cleanly along lines of age or experience. He said the staggered return of players helped them “find their voice” as they build a new team dynamic from scratch.
"We don't have time for [players] to understand how important this is, for how mature they have to be, for how organized [they] have to be," Crean said. "So it's not where we get to grow through these shared adversities together in basketball, like we've got to come now."
Next year will not be a repeat of 2019-20 in which Georgia relied heavily on NBA draft commits Anthony Edwards and Rayshaun Hammonds for offensive production.
Crean said he doesn't anticipate minutes per game quotas for particular players. Rather, he needs everyone to pull their weight, play fast and move the ball.
“All that sounds good, and if we’re not making shots, it’s not going to make a difference,” Crean said. “So, how do we get to the point where we're making shots, and at the same time, building a chemistry, synergy in one another based on what kind of teammates we have?”
In 2019-20, Georgia ranked fifth in the SEC in shooting at 45.1%. More concerning for Crean, however, was the team’s .300 3-point percentage, which ranked No. 12. He said one extra bucket from deep could have made the difference in several games last season as Georgia lost by six points or fewer five times to SEC opponents from Jan. 28-Feb. 26.
George Mason transfer Justin Kier could take on the sharpshooter role. In nine appearances last season, he shot 46.4% from the field including a .458 3-point percentage.
But before Crean assigns roles and assesses cohesion, he has to get back on the court in Stegeman Coliseum. With his piecemeal depth chart, he looks to improve Georgia’s finish in the SEC for the second consecutive year.
“I think we've got a pretty good vision of how we want to play,” Crean said. “And now it's just going to be a matter of people developing the skills and mentality to have the consistency that we want to have as we move forward, knowing that there's got to be a lot of people inexperienced still, and a lot of guys that don't know each other yet.”