ATHENS – Georgia basketball is looking to move to another level with the hiring of new men’s basketball coach Tom Crean. He answered questions today as part of the Southeastern Conference Men’s Summer Teleconference and Valdosta Today was on hand to get a preview of what he expects to bring to Stegeman Coliseum this Fall.
Crean, former head coach of Indiana and Marquette for significant stints, finds a Georgia program looking to move to a higher level in what many believe the best conference for men’s basketball in the nation, placing eight teams in the championship tournament last year.
“I’ve enjoyed getting things established”, Crean said when asked what he’s enjoyed so far regarding his introduction to the Athens campus. As far as priorities in establishing his mark on the team and program, Crean stressed getting to know the players, establishing relationships, and setting the standards for the program.
“Recruiting is paramount and huge,” he noted. “We have to establish relationships with people who will impact the program.” Crean said he has a stable of “really, really good young people” on the team already.
One of those is recent signing Ignas Sargiunas, a 6-5, 180-pound combo guard from Kaunas, Lithuania, who has signed a letter-of-intent to play basketball for the Bulldogs. Sargiunas has been a major contributor to Lithuanian age-group national teams over the past three years and currently plays for Zalgiris II Kaunas in Lithuania’s NKL. Sargiunas also helped Lithuania claim a gold medal at the 2015 U16 European Championships, a silver medal at the 2016 U18 European Championships and a bronze medal at the 2017 U18 Euros.
Crean has two Georgia natives on his staff in assistants Chad Dollar and Amir Abdur-Rahim. “I already had a great respect for this state and recruiting in this state,” Crean said. These two coaches will help him to learn his way around the state, leveraging their existing relationships. “We have to show them (recruits) how we’re building (this program) and where we’re going,” he said.
Crean wants fans, students, athletes, and boosters to begin to feel an “energy” about the program. He has invested a great deal of time and effort in raising his profile on campus and in social media.
Crean has found significant success over career. His Marquette teams averaged 20 wins a season, made 6 postseason appearances, and reached the Final Four in 2003. He brought Indiana back to prominence, being named the 2012 National Coach of the Year, and Big Ten Coach of the Year by the Sporting News in 2012. His Indiana teams eventually captured 2 outright conference championships.
Now, Crean will hope to utilize his fast-break, transition offense into conference and tournament victories for Georgia. The Bulldogs finished with a record of 18-15 last season.