Georgia brings chemistry built over summer to fall’s first practice

Georgia basketball players huddle at their first practice of the 2023-24 season at the Stegeman Coliseum Training Facility.

Credit: AJC

Combined ShapeCaption
Georgia basketball players huddle at their first practice of the 2023-24 season at the Stegeman Coliseum Training Facility.

Credit: AJC

Georgia basketball players and staff had no cell service when they took a chartered boat ride to Amalfi, Italy in July.

So, players and staff turned and talked to each other. It was a good bonding experience, guard Jabri Abdur-Rahim said, one of many on the team’s eight-day excursion in Europe.

Abdur-Rahim said this is the closest team he’s been on in three years with the Bulldogs, and it’s largely a result of their time spent in Italy trying new foods and talking with each other. Now, it’s paying off on the court.

“When you’re close with somebody, you’re able to tell them things in a respectful way (while) criticizing them,” Abdur-Rahim said. “You’re able to know how certain people react to certain things. I think that was helpful on the court — building that trust.”

Georgia held its first official practice Monday, with players gathering at the Stegeman Coliseum Training Facility. The Bulldogs went 16-16 last season — an improvement from 6-26 in 2021-22. Georgia looks to build on this record in 2023-24, pushing toward the goal of making the NCAA Tournament.

However, Monday didn’t feel like the first day of school for the team after spending time together during the summer.

Coach Mike White said the team took advantage of the extra hours in Italy to begin installing strategy. Skill-wise, he feels the Bulldogs are ahead of where they were at this point last season.

Like Abdur-Rahim, White said he appreciated how “refreshing” it is to be part of a close team. He remembered seeing a fifth-year player eating with a freshman in Italy — a unique moment that built connections, White said.

The freshmen class’ maturity level may also have “fast-tracked” relationships with older players, White said.

Veteran players agreed.

“All of them are a lot more college-ready than I was coming in as a freshman,” Abdur-Rahim said. “They have a lot of confidence and it’s going to carry over when we play.”

But one challenge, White said, is for the Bulldogs to continue building authentic relationships through adversity.

“There’s going to be some arguments, but how do we talk that out?” White said. “Is it healthy or is it going to be avoided? The strongest cultures have real conversations with one another.”

Abdur-Rahim said overcoming adversity — like a bad day in practice or a bad couple of possessions — should be a main focus for the Bulldogs. He feels the team’s existing chemistry will help when overcoming hardship during SEC play.

Georgia may get a taste of adversity before it hits conference play. The Bulldogs’ non-conference schedule includes Miami, which advanced to the Final Four last season, Florida State and Oregon.

The challenging schedule means Georgia will have to be locked in when the season starts, guard Justin Hill said.

“We’re thrown in the fire early,” he said.

White said he’s frequently spoken with his team about his hopes of making the NCAA Tournament. What needs to happen to get there? Lots of practice, improving on rebounds and focusing on running their own race, White said.

But, as a process-driven coach, White said he doesn’t care so much about the goal.

“We should be way more concerned with how we get there,” White said. “At the end, we’ll see where those results (are).”

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