Georgia Bulldogs basketball coach Tom Crean discusses the greatest challenge of his coaching career. (Video by Chip Towers)

UGA’s Tom Crean ‘very nervous’ about young, ‘positionless’ team

The Bulldogs’ second-year coach is venturing into a space he has never filled before in 30 years in the game. And, no, it’s not to manage a team comprised of nine newcomers.

It’s to field what he calls a “positionless” basketball team.

And Crean is not kidding about that distinction. In the Bulldogs’ preseason prospectus, the position listed next to all 14 names is “B.”

That’s as in “basketball player,” as opposed to guard, forward or center.

“It’s not, ‘I’m a point guard’ or ‘I’m a 2 man.’ We’re not a position team,” Crean said this week. “For us, especially for a bunch of young guys, it’s going to be to really, really get that versatility down, so we can call it on the fly eventually. … We’re going to play a lot of positionless basketball.”

So how does he direct each player where they should be on the court? Crean has an interesting concept for that as well.

He calls it the “leopard system.”

“You’re in different spots, right?” Crean said with a grin. “You come down and you say, ‘you’re at the 3-spot, you’re at the 4-spot.’ I wanted to teach that because I wanted them to get an idea of what it’s like to move around.”

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Crean and the Bulldogs will unveil that cutting-edge system at 7 p.m. Friday when they play host to Valdosta State in an exhibition game at Stegeman Coliseum.

After going 11-21 in his first season at Georgia and losing sophomore Nic Claxton to the NBA draft, Crean found himself having to completely rebuild the roster. They Bulldogs signed six top 100 prospects – led by No. 2-ranked Anthony Edwards of Holy Spirit Preparatory School – and also brought in Donnell Gresham, a 6-foot-2 graduate transfer from Northeastern.

The only returnees are Rayshaun Hammonds, Jordan Harris, Tyree Crump, Tye Fagan and Amanze Ngumezi. 

“I got everybody’s names down pretty quick, but it can still be confusing sometimes on the court,” said Hammonds, the leading returning scorer at 12.1 points per game. “I’m used to seeing Nic and Derek (Ogbeide) out there. … I feel very old now in only my third year. But it’s been fun.”

The Bulldogs can only hope the good times carry over to the court. The fan base is certainly excited about it. Georgia has sold out its season-ticket allotment of 5,750 for every game this season. UGA students also are expected to use all 2,000 of their allotment per game, so Stegeman is expected to be packed out.

What will they see? Crean’s not sure.

He had eight newcomers on his first team at Indiana, but he has never had a team configured quite like this one.

“I don't know what to expect,” Crean admitted. “I’m at that point where your stomach starts to feel a little different right now. That’s because competition is with somebody else now. And right now we’re having to spend so much time learning what it takes to play and how to play rather than what’s going to be most efficient for us. We’re really trying to find what our identity is going to be.”

Just a bunch of basketball players, it would seem.

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