crean

Georgia head coach Tom Crean during a game against Mississippi State at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020. (Photo by Tony Walsh)

Freshman guard K.D. Johnson will make his Georgia men’s basketball debut against Auburn on Wednesday after academic concerns held him out of the Bulldogs’ first 10 games.

Johnson was Georgia’s top recruit from its 2020 class as a four-star prospect, rated 95th in the national recruiting rankings per the 247Sports Composite. He averaged 26.7 points and 7.4 assists per game at Hargrave Military Academy last season before joining the Bulldogs.

Georgia started the season 7-0 but has since lost each of its first three SEC opponents, falling to 7-3. Head coach Tom Crean hopes Johnson will provide the necessary spark to move the needle in conference play.

“He has practiced with us but it has been different and there is no question about it,” Crean said during Tuesday’s virtual press conference. “Yesterday there was a different edge, a different edge to him, there was a different edge to everybody else and now he allows us to do more even personnel-wise with our backcourt, and allows us different options.”

The Bulldogs have struggled mightily in conference play since the 2018-19 season, going a combined 7-32 in that span. Despite having NBA prospects Nicolas Claxton and Anthony Edwards in those two campaigns, Crean has hopes of Johnson being the missing piece for this year’s squad which is as well-rounded as ever.

“We have really missed having another pure guard and I think it is pretty obvious,” Crean said. “When you recruit him, you are recruiting him to play. There is no doubt he is going to be a factor for our team. He is as competitive as anyone that is on the team.”

As one of the more well-rounded teams in the nation, Georgia has six players averaging at least 10 points this season, Johnson gives the Bulldogs even more offensive flexibility in a time where they have suffered a statistical downturn.

Georgia held an average of 81.1 points per game over its first seven games, all of which were wins. Over its last three losses, however, that average decreased by three points to 78. Take out the 94-92 overtime loss to LSU and the scoring average plummets to just 71 points in Georgia’s other two losses.

Crean expects Johnson to quickly become a difference-maker for the Bulldogs despite missing the beginning of the season. Forward Andrew Garcia has high expectations for the freshman guard, calling him probably the best competitor he has ever seen.

Johnson is earning high praise from his coaches and teammates before ever stepping between the lines during a game.

“It is obviously going to take some time to get well versed when it comes to playing games when everybody has played 10 and he hasn’t played one yet,” Crean said. “But he is just an absolute baller and when you have got that kind of mindset, I think you are going to fit in very well and impact the team.”

Similarly, Auburn’s Sharife Cooper made his season debut one game ago and will play Wednesday against Georgia. The former five-star recruit scored 26 points against Alabama in the Tigers’ 94-90 loss to the Tide.