Georgia freshman Sahvir Wheeler shoots against the Citadel in a NCAA college basketball game on Tuesday, November 12, 2019, in Athens. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Georgia’s Sahvir Wheeler says it’s ‘time to talk’ about race relations

Of this, Wheeler is quite aware. There have been protests and riots in Houston, as in Athens and Atlanta and most everywhere in America since Floyd died in the hands of police during an arrest in Minneapolis last month.

Wheeler himself hasn’t participated in any demonstrations, but he has a lot to say about what’s been going on. In an age when college athletes either don’t want to talk about social issues or aren’t allowed to, Wheeler instead seeks the microphone. The sophomore point guard believes open dialogue is the key to easing tensions and finding a solution for racial inequalities.

“I just think it’s time for people to talk,” Wheeler said in a telephone interview from Katy on Monday. “Especially me being an African-American person, it’s time to speak out. I think I have a good platform, not only being an athlete but being at the University of Georgia. I need to use my voice. It’s the perfect time for everyone to speak out on both sides. It’s time for a change.”

Wheeler said he, too, is outraged about instances of racial profiling and police brutality across the country. But he also expressed concern about the destruction and violence that has come as a result. He alluded to recent events in Atlanta in which a Wendy’s restaurant was burned down after Rayshard Brooks was killed there during a confrontation with police. 

“I think the black community needs to not lash out so much, as far as destroying things, burning down things. That’s not a great look,” Wheeler said. “Obviously people are in pain, but we’ve got to do better than that.

“We can’t control how people feel, as far as violent and non-violent protest. We just have to try to understand and better the situation. We can’t change the past, but we can always be thinking about what we can do better the next go-around. It’s time to listen to both sides.”

>> Cunningham: Black athletes standing up

Wheeler has been an outspoken member of the Georgia basketball team since he showed up as a 4-star freshman signee for coach Tom Crean last year. Though he was one of the younger players on the team, Wheeler quickly became a leader on the court as a 17-game starter and a team spokesman before and after games.

This week, Wheeler told Crean he was interested in trying “to become a part of a solution” for social injustice.

“I think Sahvir has learned so much from his parents and other people close to him throughout his life,” Crean said. “He sees life from so many perspectives, and I think he feels a real sense of responsibility being the oldest of six. He has confidence, awareness and courage. When you have those three attributes inside of you, you can impact a lot of people.”

Wheeler is a native of Harlem, N.Y. He lived there eight years before the family relocated to Texas. He is the oldest of Teddy and Jacqueline Wheeler’s six children. His father coached him in high school.

Wheeler was ranked the 78th best prospect in the country when he signed with the Bulldogs. He originally committed to Texas A&M.

Now considered a budding all-star for the Bulldogs, Wheeler hopes to become an agent for change. 

“I’ve been fortunate enough not to experience that stuff myself, as far as racism goes,” Wheeler said. “But I’ve been in the car when my dad was pulled over. We’ve had that talk about protocol and behavior, like making sure you have your hands on the wheel, windows down, music off, no sudden movement, use manners, stay calm, be patient, ask permission to get your papers, all that. So, yeah, I grew up with my dad teaching me that.”

UGA’s 2020 student enrollment of 38,652 is 67 percent white, as opposed to 8 percent black, according to collegetuitioncompare.com.

But Wheeler said he has found UGA’s campus “very welcoming.”

“Maybe part of it is because I’m an athlete and they see me differently,” Wheeler said. “But sometimes people have a misconception of athletes. They think we only interact with other athletes, and that’s just not true. … We interact with fans, other students. We sign autographs and take pictures and get to know a lot of people.

“I was aware of the low numbers as far as diversity at Georgia when I was researching schools. But when I’m on campus, it’s not at all unwelcoming. I get a good vibe from everybody.”

Wheeler is eager to get back to campus. Like all of his teammates, he has been having to prepare for the season on his own at home. He said he has actually put on weight and added strength while following the workout plans of strength-and-conditioning coordinator Sean Hayes. 

Meanwhile, Wheeler said he has been working on his game every day for the past three weeks at Filhoops Gym, a well-known Houston hangout for college and professonal players.

“We call it the Bat Cave because it’s kind of tucked away,” Wheeler said. “There’s definitely some ballers in there, guys from overseas, guys from other colleges, guys I played with in high school.”

Wheeler averaged nine points per game and led the Bulldogs with 139 assists last season. He is one of two starters returning from last season’s 16-16 team. Anthony “Ant Man” Edwards and Rayshaun Hammonds each have entered the NBA draft and several other players have transferred out while Crean is bringing in eight new players via signing or transfer.

Normally the basketball team would have been on campus participating in voluntary workouts for two weeks now. Instead, Wheeler said Georgia’s players still don’t know when they will be allowed to return.

“It’s a mystery,” Wheeler said with a laugh. “But I’m excited to meet the new team. We’re kind of revamped. We’ve got a good mix of young guys, old guys. I’m excited to get to know everybody, and I think we’re going to be pretty good. … I can’t wait to get back to The Steg and play in front of one of the best fan bases in the country.”

In the meantime, Wheeler vows to do what he can away from the court to make race relations as harmonious as possible.

“I think we’ve made a lot of progress over the last two weeks,” Wheeler said. “The most important thing is to have an open line of communication. Being open, being ready to communicate with others is the biggest way to affect change. Nothing gets better if you don’t communicate.” 

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