It took a bit. Nearly 14 minutes elapsed until a packed-to-the-brim Georgia student section saw what it came to Stegeman Coliseum for. The arrival of an era.
Prized freshman Anthony Edwards found teammate Tyree Crump on the corner of the 3-point line. Crump passed it back. Edwards decided to pull-up a shot from NBA range, and made it look easy. Splash. Edwards heard the roar from a surprisingly-large crowd and a different, long-awaited energy about Georgia basketball percolated throughout the arena.
Edwards is a one-of-a-kind prospect and had flashes of looking the part. Despite a slow start (1 of 6 through 12 minutes), he finished with 24 points, nine points and performed a level higher than his opponent — and his teammates, for that matter.
Edwards’ 24-point total was the highest from a Bulldog freshman in his debut since Dominique Wilkins. He had 26 points against Troy on November 30, 1979.
“After my first turnover, I was like ‘All right man, you’re tripping. Tighten up,’” Edwards said. “I got my confidence back and started playing ball. I couldn’t let my teammates down.”
Oh yeah, Georgia (1-0) won by the way. Edwards and his youthful teammates (eight other freshmen!) beat Western Carolina, 91-72. The second season of head coach Tom Crean’s tenure begins in the win column.
Edwards is Georgia’s spotlight this season, and the Bulldogs show signs of enjoying the one-and-done type of talent that’s the No. 2 projected pick in the 2020 NBA draft. A Philadelphia 76ers scout even made his way to Athens to watch Edwards’ debut.
There was more than Edwards to this victory. Here are six other observations from the victory, some of which could indicate the trajectory of Georgia’s season.
1) News! Georgia will be without senior guard Jordan Harris for the foreseeable future. Prior to tip-off, a team representative passed around a slip of paper mentioning that Harris is ineligible to play for the Bulldogs until Dec. 20 vs. SMU. Harris averaged 7.8 points and 3.6 rebounds as a junior, and is projected to be a vital part of the team’s guard rotation this season.
“Jordan Harris will be eligible to compete on December 20,” Crean said in a statement. “This is an internal matter and as you all know, I am limited in what I can say. Jordan is a valued member of this team, and we look forward to his return to action.”
2) I know this is positionless basketball, but there’s a discrepancy. There’s backcourt depth aplenty, but frontcourt depth is shallow. It didn’t take long to see it, either. With 15:56 remaining in the first half, sophomore Amanze Ngumezi and freshman Rodney Howard each had a pair of fouls. For an extended period of time, the Bulldogs played small and allowed Western Carolina to hang around — even take a one-point lead into intermission. Crean’s rotation is deep, but not balanced. Seventy-eight of 91 points were scored by guards as the so-called “big men” struggled to find traction.
We don’t have that rim-running big man that we have to have,” Crean said. “Our front line is up for grabs, and every day it has to become more competitive.”
3) This Sahvir Wheeler kid looks like somebody we’ve seen before. He stands at 5-foot-10. He’s quick. He shows no hesitancy to drive into larger bodies. Can you guess where I’m headed? Wheeler looks a lot like J.J. Frazier, the Bulldog fan favorite from 2013-17 who was known for consistency and leadership traits despite being short in stature. Not to say that it’s time to give Wheeler those accolades after his debut, but the freshman displayed some uncanny similarities.
At most points, he backed up Edwards but also played alongside him. Wheeler found his sweet spot by standing atop the perimeter, crossing up a defender and driving into the lane. He looked ferocious, confident and willing to snake through Catamount defenders. He finished with 19 points on 6 of 7 shooting, and each of his makes came on driving layups. He even had a spinning score that sent the crowd into a roar. While Edwards was the player to see, Wheeler might be another nifty guard option for the Bulldogs.
“I know I’ve always been short,” Wheeler said. “That’s something I have to do (drive in the paint). We have a team full of guys who can make shots, and they (defense) won’t leave them. I can make my presence in the paint. If they do collapse, we’ve got open shots.”
4) Edwards’ takeover allowed Georgia to pull away. Western Carolina hung around, and gave the Bulldogs a scare. The Catamounts had a 57-55 lead with about 10 minutes in regulation, but then Edwards came alive. On three consecutive possessions, he carried the offense. With little hesitancy or difficulty, the wunderkind freshman nailed a three. Then, Edwards then shifted to facilitator. He dished it to Howard for a layup and jumped at midcourt with Crump to celebrate. To cap it off, Crump (the king of volume shooting) nailed a three and allowed Georgia to go on a 34-17 run toward victory.
“They were giving me the shot and I was taking it,” Edwards said. “I was going to get downhill and kick it out if they double me. Sahvir changed the pace because they couldn’t stay in front of him.”
5) Crump still has no fear. It’s hard to forget Crump’s 17-point performance as a sophomore against St. Mary’s. He had zero fear and reiterated that “shooters shoot.” As he closes out his career, Crump has developed aplenty in this new offensive system under Crean. In the same breath, he’s the same Tyree. Crump made three 3-pointers, which doesn’t seem like a ton, but he shot eight. Georgia has two 3-point lines on the coliseum floor now — a college-length stripe and an NBA-level arc. As you can imagine, Crump shot from beyond professional range. He finished with 14 points in 27 minutes.
6) Early on, this team looks like what it is — filled with freshmen. Crean knows it, too. He asked media members if they’ve covered a team with 10 newcomers. Now they have. Some nights might be tough within these arena doors, and at times it might look sloppy. Western Carolina took advantage of a laxed-at-times defense, and Georgia went through stretches where it couldn’t make a shot into a proverbial ocean. Georgia also hopes to clean up volume of fouls. The Catamounts drew 26, entered the bonus five minutes into the first half and three players collected four-or-more fouls.
“We’re young, obviously, and will continue to get better,” Wheeler said. “We have to mature quickly in order to win at this level. We are constantly watching film, working on decision-making and it will be a process.”