3 fixes Georgia must make now to compete in college basketball
For as far back as I can remember, Georgia’s lack of basketball success has baffled me. Growing up in Rome, Georgia, I remember when local high school basketball star Mike Dean picked Georgia. This was huge. Seemingly, the sky was the limit. The basketball program was already rolling in the right direction. Jim Harrick had led the Dawgs to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1997 and followed that up with an SEC regular season championship in 2001-02 and it appeared that the sleeping giant that had lay dormant was finally about to awaken.
And then it did not. Everyone remembers what happened next. Harrick was fired, Georgia was put on probation, Dean left for Middle Tennessee, and the Bulldogs have not been invited back to The Dance since 2015 when they were bounced in their opening round by Michigan State.
Georgia hasn’t won an NCAA Tournament game since 2002. And they only won their opener that year.
They’ve made the NCAA Tournament just 3 times since Harrick left and are on their 4th head coach since Harrick was let go.
It’s puzzling for a variety of reasons. The state still is producing talent. But unlike the football team, Georgia’s basketball program isn’t signing it.
Georgia produced 7 of the top 100 players in the 2023 class, for instance. None picked Georgia. That includes 3 of the top 13 players in the country.
It’s nothing new. Jabari Smith, the No. 1 player in the 2021 class, is from suburban Atlanta. He picked Auburn. Walker Kessler was Georgia’s No. 2 player in the 2020 class. He picked UNC, then transferred to Auburn and now is in the NBA.
Georgia’s in-state recruiting wins have been Anthony Edwards in 2019 … and not much else.
Meanwhile, other in-state programs not only have made the NCAA Tournament, they managed to win a tournament game while there. Heck, even my alma mater Kennesaw State made the tournament this year. So clearly the talent is still here within the state. How then does Georgia finally awaken the sleeping giant that is UGA basketball? Let’s discuss:
3. Fix the daggum Coliseum
Stegeman Coliseum is a relic. Built in 1963, The Coliseum has been the home of the men’s and women’s basketball teams, as well as other UGA athletic teams. Sure, it’s seen its share of renovations and updates, including an $8 million scoreboard that was added in 2017, but we all know how the arms race works in collegiate athletics and Stegeman desperately needs attention.
As recently as the beginning of this month, a chunk of the ceiling fell into the arena and the facility was forced to cancel all activities until it could be fixed. You would think an athletic department hot off back-to-back national championship in football could find some loose change in the couch to throw toward a new shiny basketball facility.
This should have been done years ago, but I digress. High school basketball players want to be wowed the same way football recruits are when they walk between the hedges. Money’s not the issue, so I’ll assume this was on Mike White’s wish list upon accepting the job.
Nobody expects Georgia to get into an attendance “arms race” with the likes of Kentucky and Arkansas but those programs averaged more attendance per game this season then Stegeman has seats available. But small venues can and should be made into the home team’s advantage.
Duke’s Cameron Indoor is the shining example of what’s possible. And the contrast is glaring compared with next-door neighbor UNC, which features the 20,000+ seat Dean Dome.
Georgia’s goal: Start realistic and make Stegeman the most feared 10,000-seat arena in the SEC. Again, Georgia isn’t new to the facility arms race so they know what they need to do. Winning fixes everything but if you’re going to lose, you don’t want to get hit in the head by concrete on your way out. Georgia fans have proven that if you give them something to cheer for, they’ll show up.
2. Mike White has to figure out how to keep talent in-state
Talent matters. It matters even more when your state is a top 5 producing state when it comes to such talent. According to 247Sports, The 2023 Georgia basketball recruiting class ranks 40th with 2 players signed, only 1 from the state of Georgia.
Georgia’s had talented players before and they’ll get talented players again, but it is tough to look at the top players in the 2023 cycle and notice that none of the players ranked in the top 50 are headed to Athens this Fall. Newton’s Stephon Castle (ranked 9th overall) is headed to UConn, and Overtime Elite’s Robert Dillingham (ranked 13th overall) is headed to Kentucky. I’ll spare you the rest of the list, but it’s a long list of guys leaving the state to go play elsewhere.
And as we touched on briefly, this isn’t a new trend. Landing Edwards in 2019 was the outlier, not the expectation.
White has to figure out how to keep that talent home. And now with NIL and the transfer portal affording places like Georgia an upper hand, White and his staff could see some talent want to come home and play.
The beauty of being athletically rich like Georgia is that you only need to spend your money wisely once to see a big return in basketball. However White decides to handle in-state talent and the transfer portal, the roster should lean Georgia heavy and the expectation is that talent is going to be molded into a winner quickly. Speaking of the transfer portal, with Kario Oquendo and Terry Roberts announcing their decisions to leave UGA, White will have 6 scholarships to fill through the portal. Even if you can’t get everyone, you can call everyone. If they played high school basketball in Georgia, they should hear from this staff, period.
1. Win and win now
The most obvious solution to the problem.
Is White the answer? Let’s just say that those who were skeptical of the hire remain so.
He had some success at Florida, leading the Gators to the NCAA Tournament 4 times and reaching the Elite once.
White had more NCAA Tournament wins at Florida (6) than Georgia has had in the past 40 years combined.
In his first season at Georgia, White turned a 6-26 team into a respectable 16-16. And while that is a great start, 3 more SEC teams reached the Sweet 16, including Alabama, which was the No. 1 overall seed. Eight SEC teams made the tournament and 2 more made the NIT.
The climb is steep — and it’s about to get steeper.
Ole Miss just hired Chris Beard, so they’ll look to bounce back quickly. Jerry Stackhouse has Vanderbilt winning and believing in him. Texas and Oklahoma are on their way.
Georgia has way too many tools at their disposal to continue to struggle as a basketball school. If White doesn’t get this turned around quickly enough, a change has to be made.
Long gone are the days of “football schools” and “basketball schools” or “baseball schools.”
The standard is that these programs compete at a high level in all big sports.
Tennessee, Alabama, and Arkansas were all in the Sweet 16. They all have coaches who can win in the postseason and they all seem to have the backing of the football programs and fans as well. Meanwhile, all Georgia fans can talk about at the moment is football specific.
That’s not a knock, just a reality of the situation. Georgia fans want to be a part of March Madness, not using the month as a countdown to the G-Day spring game.
It’s not an easy process, but a renovated arena, home-grown talent, and some late January and February wins would go a long way toward making the Big Dance part of the calendar. For now, Georgia has to focus on finding a way onto a court in March.