Eight new players dot the roster for Georgia’s basketball team, but so far, point guard Sahvir Wheeler likes what he sees.
The Bulldogs are entering their second full week of preseason practice, and although every day spent on the court continues to be somewhat of a learning process, newcomers appear to be fitting in more quickly than they ordinarily might.
“I think what’s helping is, some of the guys who are new are older. They’re coming with college experience, so they’re coming with the right mindset every day, the mindset to work and the mindset to work every day and compete,” sophomore guard Sahvir Wheeler said. “They’re taking coaching really well, they’re part of that culture that we want to build here in Georgia.”
Four of Georgia’s newcomers–P.J. Horne, Andrew Garcia, Justin Kier and Ty McMillan—signed with the Bulldogs without even visiting campus.
“When they got to campus, that was the first time we’d personally met them and talked to them not on phone, FaceTime or Zoom,” head coach Tom Crean said. “The only guy with a full year of college basketball with us in the program is Ty Fagan. That’s really tough because the kids who are sophomores didn’t get the full spring.”
Nevertheless, Wheeler has been impressed.
“We’re getting better every day,” Wheeler said. “Guys are competing, guys are making shots, guys are wanting to learn and applying what they’re learning every day. I feel our chemistry is building on and off the court.”
The Bulldogs returned to campus during the summer with four hours per week of conditioning workouts. That expanded to include four hours per week of on-court work beginning on July 20, and moved to 12 hours total of conditioning and skill instruction from Sept. 21-Oct. 13.
Of course, all this is minus Anthony Edwards, who will be one of the top picks in the NBA Draft, and also Rayshaun Hammonds, who averaged 12.9 points and a team-best 7.4 rebounds.
“Obviously, we have a different dynamic as far as not having the potential No. 1 pick, but I think we will play a little bit faster, hopefully a lot faster. I know that may sound a little crazy since we were No. 2 in transition points offensively,” Wheeler said. “I think this year defensively we will be a lot better. The reason I say that is we are taking pride on the defensive end. During the summer we did a lot of work on our defensive principles and every day guys were locked in. Guys know that was a weakness of ours last year and is something we needed to improve on and this year guys have the mindset that we’re going to guard this year, we’re going to keep guys out the paint, it’s going to be a collective and team effort.”
Wheeler joins fellow sophomore Toumani Camara, Christian Brown and Tye Fagan as returnees expected to play key roles.
Also returning are sophomores Jaykwon Walton and Jaxon Etter, with freshman K.D. Johnson and Josh Taylor, joining junior college transfers Jonathan Ned and Mikal Starks in making up the rest of the roster.
Despite being one of the team’s most experienced returning players, Wheeler said the burden will not be his alone when it comes to shouldering the main leadership role.
“I’m not saying it’s my team, although I will have a role from the leadership aspect.
I think we all have a part in that leadership,” Wheeler said. “Coach is big on having a player-driven team, having leadership, so I don’t want to say it’s my team, although we all have a role to play, including me, as far as holding everyone accountable and make sure we’re better than we were last year.”