Georgia’s Sahvir Wheeler making a name for himself

Georgia guard Sahvir Wheeler (2) feeds teammate P.J. Horne for one of his 13 assists on the way to recording the first 'triple-double' in UGA basketballl history in a win over LSU at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens  on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)
Georgia guard Sahvir Wheeler (2) feeds teammate P.J. Horne for one of his 13 assists on the way to recording the first 'triple-double' in UGA basketballl history in a win over LSU at Stegeman Coliseum in Athens on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (Photo by Tony Walsh/UGA Athletics)

Credit: Tony Walsh

Credit: Tony Walsh

ATHENS -- The Zoom interview was over, and Sahvir Wheeler was excused to leave the podium. But before getting up, the Georgia point guard asked the moderator from UGA’s sports communications office if he could “say one more thing.”

“Go right ahead,” he was told.

“You guys know I have a unique name, and if your child had a unique name, you’d want their name said right,” Wheeler told two dozen reporters participating into the video conference call. “It’s SAH-veer,” he said, drawing out the emphasis on the first syllable. Then he spelled it out.

“S-A-H-V-I-R. Not suh-VEER or nothing like that. So, I just wanted to point that out to you guys. But thank you for having me. Always a pleasure being here.”

If he’d been holding a microphone, Wheeler probably would’ve dropped it there.

A couple of hours later and 900 miles away, a father heard about his son’s news conference epilogue, and he was beaming.

“I was proud of that, I was really proud of that,” said Teddy Wheeler, speaking this week from his home in Houston. “Because the phonetic spelling has been in (the Georgia media guide) since his freshman year; I know because I thought was pretty cool that they’d have that detail. So, for guys to mispronounce it, he should correct them. He shouldn’t let people continuously say his name wrong every day.”

If Wheeler continues to play the way he has for the Bulldogs, there shouldn’t much longer be a requirement for rectification. In the game after Wheeler’s clarification, he recorded the first “triple-double” in the 116-year history of Georgia basketball. That his 14 points, 13 assists and 11 rebounds came in a stunning 91-78 upset win over LSU was a bonus.

That performance followed a game-high, 27-point scoring effort on the road against the Florida Gators on Saturday. And now, as the Bulldogs (14-9, 7-9 SEC) prepare to host South Carolina (5-12, 3-10) in the next-to-last game of the regular season Saturday, Wheeler finds himself just four assists away from setting UGA’s single-season record for assists. Pertha Robinson had 169 in 1995, the last time the Bulldogs made it to the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16.

Not bad for the kid who, at a generously listed height of 5-foot-10, encountered some skepticism over whether he could excel in major-college basketball.

“I think it’s just a testament to the work that I put in, as well as a testament to the coaching staff,” Wheeler said of his accomplishments. “They believed in me and had a vision for me. After I de-committed from Texas A&M, coach (Tom) Crean and his staff showed a lot of faith in me, a lot of heart, and they wanted me here. They wanted me to come to be a part of something big, and they wanted me to come in and lead this team and the program. All that is to them.”

Now Crean believes we’ll see Wheeler playing in the NBA one day.

“Are there a lot of things that have to happen between now and then? Absolutely,” Crean said. “But that’s the way it is with all players. They’ve got to continue to get better. But his attitude and desire to improve, the way he’s grown as a leader, the way he’s grown defensively, his ability to play with speed, to find people, he’s an improving shooter and scorer. Those things lead me to believe that he’s going to continue to get better and better.”

While the rest of the basketball world may be taken aback by Wheeler’s career arc, Teddy Wheeler is not. Sahvir’s father has been watching his son outpace everybody’s expectations since he started teaching him the game at Harlem’s Rucker Park as a grade-schooler.

“He’s not surprising me,” said Teddy Wheeler, who has coached his son at every stage until now. “We don’t put caps on our children when they think they can achieve something. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has even more success at this level. As a family, we don’t go into things thinking we’re going to fail.”

Georgia sophomore Sahvir Wheeler poses with his parents Jacqueline and Teddy Wheeler after graduating from Houston Christian in 2019. (Family photo)
Georgia sophomore Sahvir Wheeler poses with his parents Jacqueline and Teddy Wheeler after graduating from Houston Christian in 2019. (Family photo)

It’s not like Georgia was taking a huge flyer on Wheeler. He was Top 100 recruit, a 4-star prospect and All-American coming out of high school. Wheeler starred on the AAU teams he played on at Houston’s Basketball University gym, and he won two state championships with Houston Christian High School.

But the college basketball bluebloods ignored Wheeler because of his size.

“He had great options in recruiting,” Teddy Wheeler said. “Once he narrowed them down, we empowered him to make his own decision. The decision he made has obviously worked out best and that was to play for coach Crean.”

You won’t find a bigger fan of Georgia’s third-year coach than Teddy Wheeler. And as a coach, player and a basketball junkie his entire life, Teddy Wheeler knows coaching. Sahvir grew up watching his father play on the New York City blacktops. When he was big enough to walk, he’d be off to the side dribbling the ball and trying to emulate the moves he was seeing on the court.

The family moved to Houston when Sahvir was 8, and that’s when his indoctrination started to get real. Teddy coached Sahvir’s first few rec teams. Recognizing his son’s unique skills, soon they had frank conversation about whether basketball was something he wanted

“When I decided to take basketball seriously, he told me that he could make me into a player if I buy into him,” Wheeler said. “From then on, we’ve been rocking out together all the way through AAU until my last summer in 11th grade.”

Said Teddy: “He was a star in elementary school and in middle school. He started going to some high-level events and playing in some high-level camps and testing himself against some of the guys who regarded as some of the best players on a national level. So, he’s carried that reputation all the way through.”

Sahvir originally committed to Texas A&M as a junior. The family was living near College Station at the time after Hurricane Harvey destroyed their home. But after coach Billy Kennedy was fired, Wheeler decided to reassess his decision.

Enter Crean.

“Coach Crean was rock star in the recruiting process,” Teddy Wheeler said. “He blew us all away in the home visit, and he and Sahvir just hit it off. There was an organic connection right away. You could see it then and you can see it now during games.

“Crean and Sahvir are almost always on the same page, and that has been a godsend for Sahvir’s development the collegiate level. I have to credit coach Crean, the way he uses him, allows his skills to flourish, emphasizes his strengths and challenges his weaknesses.”

Wheeler is undisputed as the conduit through which everything Georgia does runs. He leads the team in scoring (14.1 ppg), assists (7.2 pg) and minutes played (34.4 pg). He has struggled some with turnovers (99), but a share of that falls on teammates not anticipating some of the balls coming their way. Because he’s left-handed and drives so well to his left, teams started forcing him right. Now scoring as much on the right side of the goal as the left.

Lately opponents are choosing to sag off and clog the lane and letting Wheeler shoot from deep. He’s occasionally gotten hot from 3-point range, but is 2-of-10 in the past two games and is shooting only 25% from beyond the arc for the season.

“I’m seeing a kid that is developing, a kid whose mind is internalizing what defenses are doing to him and making in-game adjustments,” Teddy Wheeler said. “I’m seeing a player that’s starting to play to his strengths even in the midst of being the focus of all the opponents’ scouting. It seems like the game is slowing down for him, where he’s processing the game at a different speed. I think he’s starting to figure out what opponents are trying to do and he can counter it.”

His Georgia coaches and teammates are loving it. They fully expect Wheeler to run down the UGA assists record Saturday against South Carolina and keep adding records this season and next -- and however long he remains at Georgia.

But wins are what Wheeler is most interested in bagging at the moment, and there aren’t many more of those left to be had. He knows that, while records are nice, true notoriety comes with team success. That’s what he craves most at the moment.

“(Getting the triple-double is) definitely a confidence booster going into South Carolina,” Wheeler said. “But that’s a team that I don’t think we’ve beaten since I’ve been here or since coach Crean has been here. So we’re really focusing on winning that game.”

As for the name, SAH-veer was the gift of his father. Growing up in New York, Teddy Wheeler always loved the art of the painter Salvadore Dali. He wanted to name the first of what is now six children after the artist. But his wife, Jacqueline, wouldn’t go for it.

So, they compromised.

“It’s a New York name from Harlem,” Teddy said with a laugh. “I just sort of created it spur of the moment. I said what about SAH-veer, and she loved it. And it stuck.”

UGA Single-Season Assists

Rk. No., Player, Season, Games, Avg.

1. 169, Pertha Robinson, 1994-95, 27, 6.26

2. 165, Sahvir Wheeler, 2020-21, 23, 7.17

3. 154, Sundiata Gaines, 2006-07, 32, 4.81

4. 153, Rashad Wright, 2001-02, 32, 4.78

5. 152, Donald Hartry, 1985-86, 30, 5.07

6. 151, J.J. Frazier, 2015-16, 34, 4.44

7. 150, Willie Anderson, 1986-87, 30, 5.00

8. 149, Rashad Wright, 2002-03, 27, 5.52

9. 148, G.G. Smith, 1996-97, 33, 4.48

148, G.G. Smith, 1997-98, 35, 4.23

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