Georgia hopes to capitalize on ‘Ant Man’ Edwards going No. 1

Credit: Georgia Bulldogs

Georgia basketball coach Tom Crean comments on recruiting players that jump to the NBA.

Credit: Georgia Bulldogs

ATHENS — Tom Crean said he’d do it again.

“It,” being recruit more one-and-done players to play basketball for Georgia. He just did that with Anthony “Ant Man” Edwards. Notably, Edwards was the first pick in Wednesday night’s NBA Draft, becoming the Bulldogs’ first No. 1 pick of all time in the process.

Also notable, though, is the fact that Edwards didn’t exactly lift Crean’s second Georgia team to greatness. The Bulldogs went 16-16 in the pandemic-shortened season.

Nevertheless, if there’s another one-and-done out there willing to follow Edwards’ path to Athens, Crean said he’d be glad to show them the way.

“Absolutely,” said Crean, who prefers to refer to such players as “predestined.” “I think you have to. I think anybody who says they wouldn’t is not telling the truth. You’ve got to try to make your team better on the floor, in the classroom, in the meetings every day. You’ve got to try to do that in recruiting as well. And I think it means a ton.”

It certainly worked out well for Edwards. After averaging 19.1 points a game and being named SEC freshman of the year, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound guard out of Holy Spirit Preparatory School, surpassed Dominique Wilkins (third, Utah Jazz, 1982) as the Bulldogs’ highest draft pick of all time. He is expected to sign a four-year contract with the Minnesota Timberwolves that will be worth at least $44.4 million, according to published reports Wednesday night.

But Edwards headed to Minneapolis on Thursday lugging a lot of questions. NBA writers on Thursday’s call were asking Crean why Edwards shot only 29 percent from 3-point range and why wasn’t he more dominant on defense and why the Bulldogs weren’t better as a team.

Crean told them, “it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. He’s only 19.” He said expects Edwards’ game to improve rapidly in the NBA, where he’ll team with other star players such as Karl-Anthony Towns, D’Angelo Russell and the newly acquired Ricky Rubio.

“Anthony is a great teammate,” Crean said. “He’s got an infectious personality. Does he have to grow up? Absolutely. Does he have things to learn? No question about it. But he’s 19, with a great heart, tremendous empathy and loves being a teammate.”

Edwards told reporters after his selection Wednesday night that he has heard all the criticisms. He said he is eager to prove them wrong for the Timberwolves, who were unwavering in their support and belief in him as the No. 1 selection.

“(They) made me feel like I was headed to be the best player that ever played basketball,” Edwards said. “It made me feel like I was doing something right, you know? Because I get criticized a lot. It made me feel like I was doing something right, and it made me just want to work even harder.”

Crean said he exchanged texts with Edwards immediately after his nationally televised selection Wednesday night, then talked to him on the phone a short time later. Even though he was on the UGA campus less than a year, Crean said he expects Edwards to remain close to the program.

The key for Georgia now is whether it can benefit from that. It hasn’t so far, at least not in the recruiting class of 2021. The Bulldogs were unable to land the state’s top-ranked player, 6-10 forward Jabari Smith of Sandy Creek High, who signed with Auburn. Nos. 2 and 3, Pace Academy’s Matthew Cleveland (Florida State) and Ryan Mutombo of Lovett (Georgetown), also went elsewhere.

In fact, the top 14 players in 247Sports’ state rankings all are headed to schools other than UGA. However, the Bulldogs do have a commitment from Camron McDowell, a 3-star guard out of McEachern and the state’s 15th-ranked player.

Among out-of-state players, Georgia is pursuing Aminu Mohammed, a 6-4 shooting guard from Springfield, Mo., and Michael Foster, a 6-9 forward from Milwaukee. Both are rated as 5-star prospects.

Crean insists it’s just a matter of time.

“It’s just amazing to have never had a No. 1 pick,” he said of Georgia. “So, I think it says a lot. … At the end of the day, do you want to get better? If you want to be developed and you want a chance to play at a great state university in front of a great fan base, it’s here. There’s no one that can ever say again that your greatest dream can’t be realized at Georgia when it comes to going to the next level. I feel really good about that.”

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