Said Edwards: “I never feel pressure. This is what I’m working for. My brother (Hammonds) said, ‘Take over, I’m out.’ ”
Said Pastner: “He’s a pro. He’s going to be one of the top three draft picks. Pros do that.”
Said Crean: “Anthony doesn’t really get rattled. ... In all honesty, we’re not even scratching the surface on him.”
Edwards is from Atlanta. Hammonds, a junior, is from Norcross. Pastner again: “Hammonds was a stud tonight. We recruited him hard, too.”
This isn’t to say that Pastner hasn’t taken what he has and made it better. Devoe averaged 9.7 points as a freshman. He scored 34 against Georgia. Moses Wright scored 16 points in the second half. They weren’t big-name signees, but they can play. But that’s the thing: For Pastner, now in Year 4, there still hasn’t been a big-name signee.
“I really, really like this team,” Pastner said. “We have a chance to have a really good season.”
Couldn’t beat Georgia, though. Even if its appeal of the NCAA’s postseason ban is granted, there’s no guarantee Tech will win enough games to make the NCAA tournament. It hasn’t since 2010. That’s a long time.
For the Bulldogs, the future must be now. Edwards is a definite one-and-done, but his one season brings the chance to skip several steps. Crean, who gets excited about everything, was especially excited to learn that Georgia hadn’t drawn so many fans over its first four home games to Stegeman Coliseum since 1981. “That’s how the program gets built,” he said. “That’s how the team gets better. We had recruits at the game.”
And there it is again. The state of Georgia has long churned out major basketball talents. The state’s flagship university now has one of those, and the men’s basketball team of the that flagship university has won five in a row against Georgia Tech. Said Crean: “We’re the University of Georgia. That’s something we want to build. This is a huge rivalry. I told the team, ‘There will always be things bigger than you.’ A game like this is.”
The Bulldogs aren’t a big team. (They shouldn’t have outrebounded Tech, but they did.) They mightn’t be very good defensively, either. That was the knock on Crean’s teams at Indiana, where basketball is more than a diversion between football season and spring football, and Georgia’s defense against Devoe and Wright in the second half was shocking. “We gave up way too many straight-line drives,” Crean said.
No matter. When in doubt, Georgia had the ultimate bailout – throw it to a great player and let him work. Edwards finished with 18 points, 16 in the second half. He drew seven Tech fouls, most off drives, a couple off backdoor cuts. His performance was what Pastner had envisioned for Tech when he offered Edwards a scholarship before his sophomore year at Therrell High. But Edwards didn’t want to spend his pre-NBA gap year at Tech.
Said Pastner: “I saw him in Las Vegas with his AAU team before his senior year. I said he could play in the NBA right then.”
The Ant Man gives Georgia chance to make inroads untraveled since ... when? The early days of Hugh Durham, with Dominique Wilkins and James Banks (no relation to Tech’s James Banks) and Terry Fair and Vern Fleming? One big name tends to draw other big names. Even if you’re working with new big names every year, it beats signing a bunch of 3-stars and straining to break .500. As Crean said: “How do we build it on the floor, and how do we build the environment?”
He already knows the answer. The answer is Anthony Edwards. He won’t be a Bulldog long, but he doesn’t need to be. He’s here now.