Mike White insists Stegeman is not holding back Georgia

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — With the season now over (or almost), Georgia coach Mike White will soon turn his attention to recruiting. For now, at least, he’ll have to do that without being able to show prospects an arena.

Stegeman Coliseum, the Bulldogs’ basketball home for the last 60 years, is closed indefinitely. At the least, that will be through May. Several graduation ceremonies scheduled to take place late that month are being relocated.

That won’t work for the Bulldogs. Their headquarters literally is attached to the Coliseum. Meanwhile, the spring recruiting period for evaluations and signings runs from April through May.

ExploreUGA: Could be ‘several months’ before Stegeman Coliseum reopens

“Some of those things are out of our control,” White said when asked this week about that dilemma following Georgia’s loss to LSU in the opening round of the SEC Tournament. “If they tell us we can’t walk in there, we can’t walk in there. If that happens, we’ll pivot and figure out what we’re going to do next.”

At the least, they won’t be able to walk in there without a hard hat. A “palm-sized” piece of concrete was found to have fallen from the ceiling of the Coliseum last Wednesday, the morning after nearly 8,000 spectators had filled it for the Florida game, Georgia’s last regular-season contest in the building. The gymnastics meet that was supposed to be conducted there Friday was postponed until Sunday and moved 40 minutes away to Duluth’s Gas South Arena.

Earlier this week, UGA revealed that was at least the third time cement and other debris have fallen from the ceiling in the last four years. One time it happened near Tunnel 3 shortly before a Terry College of Business commencement. Attendees simply were directed to sit elsewhere.

Rightly or wrongly, the Coliseum long has been criticized for being out of date and outclassed by many of the other basketball arenas in the SEC. With new revenue streams pouring in via existing – and future – broadcast agreements with ESPN, the league is in the throes of a facilities arms race.

But basketball is not much of a revenue producer for Georgia, and that is further complicated by the fact that the building that men’s and women’s basketball, gymnastics and volleyball compete in is owned by the university and not the athletic association.

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In his first year leading Georgia’s men’s program after seven years at Florida, White believes that will be resolved and can be worked around in the meantime.

“We’re proud of Stegeman,” White said. “I’ve only been here a year, not even a year yet, and if we’ve missed on a recruit, it hasn’t been because of Stegeman. There’s facility upgrades throughout the country in college athletics, and all different types of sports and maintenance, and all those things. … I’ve got great confidence in our leadership that we’ll figure it out.”

Georgia actually had good attendance in Stegeman all season and has the last several seasons. The Bulldogs went 12-4 on their home court in 2022-23.

“I thought we had a great environment this year,” White said. “Our home games were loud and electric, the attendance was terrific and we look forward to continuing to build a home-court advantage in the future and really look forward to the realignment of the seating, and even an increased environment next season.”

Kario Oquendo MIA

White took no joy in explaining why he took Kario Oquendo out of Wednesday’s game one minute into the second half and never returned him.

“These (questions) are always tricky to me,” White said in the postgame news conference. “We’re trying to win the game. We had several missed blockouts – four or five in the first half and a huge one early in the second – and it was a huge point of emphasis. We got a group of five in there early in the second half that I thought were playing with a ton of energy, and that level of detail increased in that category. …

“Let’s ride with this group; that’s all it was. It could have been Kario and four other guys. It wasn’t tonight.”

Oquendo entered the game as Georgia’s second-leading scorer at 12.8 ppg. He also has played the second-most minutes on the team at 451, or 25.1 pg, but played only 16:43 Wednesday. That was his shortest time on the floor since the Texas A&M game on Feb. 4, when he played a little over 12 minutes.

Oquendo was downtrodden after the game but seemed to understand.

“I just came out and started cheering on my teammates, hoping they could get it done,” said the junior guard from Titusville, Florida. “There comes a time as a player sometimes you’ve got to sacrifice ... .”

Looking ahead

Oquendo is one of several Georgia players who will have a decision to make in the coming days. Oquendo could return to UGA for his senior season, enter the transfer portal or seek some sort of professional opportunity. Oquendo was in the portal briefly last spring before White was hired, and White talked him into coming back to UGA. Oquendo said Wednesday he hasn’t made up his mind.

“I haven’t yet,” he said. “I’ve got to talk to my family as far as what I’m going to do next year.”

Oquendo is one of six underclassmen who could return for the Bulldogs. Point guard Terry Roberts is a senior but also has the extra COVID year of eligibility to utilize next season if he chooses.

Braelen Bridges, Jaxon Etter and Jailyn Ingram all are moving on.

“I’m eager to get to it,” White said. “… We’ve got a lot of things to evaluate. We’ll have individual meetings with all these guys pretty quickly to figure out where we go next. But I’m anxious to get back to work.”

White said he believes the basketball program advanced in his first season and said a “firm foundation” was established despite ending on a six-game losing streak. The Bulldogs’ six SEC wins represented a significant improvement over last season, when Georgia had one.

“The way we finished the season is obviously not what we were looking to do,” White said. “But I did like our approach coming into this one. I loved our fight today. This team has overcome adversity all season. It’s a tough way to go out, but I do feel like we laid a good foundation.”

Ole Miss advances

Tennessee is what’s on tap for Ole Miss, which defeated South Carolina 67-61 in the first game of this year’s tournament. The Rebels got a couple of late 3s to pull away from the Gamecocks in what had been a back-and-forth game.

Ole Miss is the alma mater of Georgia’s head coach. As it turns out, the Rebels are now in need of a new head coach. But, in case you’re wondering, that won’t be White. He dismissed the notion shortly after Ole Miss made the move the last week of February.

“Oh, man, I’m blessed to be here; I love it here,” White said then. “We’re excited about building something special here. For Ole Miss, I love (athletic director) Keith Carter. He’s terrific at what he does. I’m sure he’s going to make a great decision for the future of their program.”

There’s that, and there’s also the matter of the liquidated damages clause in White’s contract. The coach (or new employer) would owe Georgia if White were to resign to take another job. He signed a six-year contract with the Bulldogs that will pay him $3.9 million in the final year.