Bulldogs Blog

’Always on the go’: How Tom Crean is changing the energy of Georgia basketball

Georgia head coach Tome Crean during a men’s basketball game between the University of Georgia and Texas Southern University in Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Monday, Dec., 3, 2018. (Photo by Kristin M. Bradshaw)
Georgia head coach Tome Crean during a men’s basketball game between the University of Georgia and Texas Southern University in Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, Ga., on Monday, Dec., 3, 2018. (Photo by Kristin M. Bradshaw) Special to the Telegraph

There can be fascination with a FitBit watch, especially when it comes to hitting the coveted 10,000 steps (or whatever goal is set) in a 24-hour period.

Tom Crean doesn’t have that problem.

Joani Crean, the wife of Georgia’s first-year head basketball coach, invested in the watch as a gift nearly a year ago to keep track of fitness statistics — steps, heart rate or whatever it may be. He’s already been through two of them.

Crean said he checks his steps on an occasional basis and wouldn’t divulge a post-game total. Although it wasn’t tracked, he might’ve reached 10,000 in the first four minutes of regulation in Georgia’s 92-75 win over Texas Southern.

All he does is pace.

“I think better when I’m moving around,” Crean said. “It wouldn’t look like it sometimes.”

There’s no sitting down or taking a rest, except to lean over the scorer’s table, check stats and consume a swig of his beloved Diet Coke.

“He’s always on go,” senior forward Derek Ogbeide said.

It’s something that Crump, Ogbeide and other Georgia players have never seen in a coach. Their previous leader, Mark Fox, was mobile on the sideline, but also took time to stand still and observe the action. The only time Crean stood still was on a free-throw attempt.

Crean’s ferocity began at the game’s tip and became ever-so-obvious on specific sequences. It is also never-ending.

In one instance, Georgia was formulating a play in a half-court set (a rarity for the new-look Bulldogs), and Crean was displeased with what could’ve been a minute detail. He threw his arms in the air, stomped his feet and whipped his body around.

Tyree Crump made a 3-point shot on the possession.

Moments later, Crean’s motions were similar, but there was a tad more ferocity in the raising of his arms to indicate a flaw in the offensive set.

Crump, who led Georgia in scoring with a career-high 25 points, drove past Texas Southern defenders and made a layup.

Those resulted in points, but then Crean squatted on two Georgia offensive possessions. The vibrant instruction while standing must’ve been more productive because the Bulldogs were 0-for-2 on possessions when Crean went into a semi-resting position.

“At practice, I’ll sometimes tap Derek or Nic (Claxton) on the shoulder,” Crump said. “I’ll say ‘Look at him. He’s going to start walking.’ He’s truly high energy and we love it.”

It’s an exuberance that bleeds through the team. On nearly every offensive possession, even when Georgia was up by as many as 20 points, every player and assistant coach would stand up behind Crean.

Georgia’s assistants — Chad Dollar, Joe Scott and Amir Abdur-Rahim — would take turns yelling out instruction with Crean. When the Bulldogs scored, the bench would erupt in celebration. Even on the simplest of scores, Claxton raised his arms and was jokingly held back by a teammate after Ogbeide made a layup.

Crean would also celebrate his players when he saw necessary. Ignas Sarguinas corralled his own offensive rebound and scored on the same possession. Crump made yet another 3-pointer (although Crean looked away for a second while something went wrong, so his feet were stomping again). Ogbeide and Crump were given high-fives during a timeout in which Georgia went on a 9-0 run.

“I don’t think of myself as an example of energy and passion, but that’s who I am,” Crean said. “You want to be surrounded like that. I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t have a lot of fun in the games.”

Georgia has seen a revitalization attempt within its basketball program, and Crean has spearheaded it. It began with interaction across campus, and has now carried over to a relentless on-court coaching effort.

This coaching change has been drastic for the Bulldogs, and Crean understands that. Georgia’s style was once a half-court offense from Fox which involved running the shot clock down to its bitter end. Now, it’s a run-and-gun style with positionless basketball — shown by a 6-foot-11 Claxton playing point guard at times.

“He’s a bold competitor and has been doing this for a while,” Ogbeide said. “He’s so mentally attached that it almost doesn’t make sense. He’s always thinking about another step, covers his bases and does everything right. It’s a way of doing things that puts you at that level.”

Added Crump: “He’s almost perfect.”

When it leads to a mass of fans standing along with Crean after the pacing pays off, it gives a reminder.

“This is why I’m here,” Crean said.