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How Tom Crean put Georgia Bulldogs in position to land nation’s top basketball prospect, Anthony ‘Ant Man’ Edwards

How Tom Crean put Georgia Bulldogs in position to land nation’s top basketball prospect, Anthony ‘Ant Man’ Edwards

How Tom Crean put Georgia Bulldogs in position to land nation’s top basketball prospect, Anthony ‘Ant Man’ Edwards

How Tom Crean put Georgia Bulldogs in position to land nation’s top basketball prospect, Anthony ‘Ant Man’ Edwards

Georgia basketball-How Tom Crean put Bulldogs in position to sign Anthony 'Ant Man' Edwards-Georgia Bulldogs

ATLANTA –  Winfred Jordan is a self-professed basketball junkie. When he was an adolescent in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, his uncles would pick him up in his Oakland City neighborhood in southwest Atlanta and take him up to Georgia Tech to watch the state high school playoffs.

Jordan rattles off the names of the great players he saw there.

“There were so many of them,” Jordan said. “Dale Ellis, Jeff Malone, Terry Fair, Donald Hartry, Lamar Heard, Cedric Henderson, Melvin Howard, James Banks. I watched James Banks destroy people all by himself.”

Banks, of course, ended up going to the University of Georgia where he helped lead the Bulldogs on their Final Four run in 1983. Fair, Heard and Hartry also were on that team.

That’s why Jordan, head coach of the Atlanta Xpress AAU team, is taken aback when people react with such surprise that the state’s latest basketball sensation – Anthony “Ant Man” Edwards – is seriously considering signing with the Bulldogs. In fact, Jordan doesn’t discount the notion that Georgia might actually hold a lead in the bid to sign his 6-foot-5 guard, who is considered the No. 1 basketball prospect in America.

Then again, the Bulldogs haven’t signed the No. 1 player in America in a while. OK, maybe never.

“It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?” Jordan said with a laugh. “But Georgia has a strong basketball history. People tend to forget about the times they’ve been really, really good. Hugh Durham always recruited great players.”

The world will find out Monday morning if Georgia’s latest head coach has been able penetrate Atlanta’s AAU zone. Tom Crean has been on the job only since March 15, but he and his staff have made up an enormous amount of ground when it comes to the considerable pursuit that has been recruitment of Edwards.

Edwards will announce his decision at a conference news conference scheduled for 9 a.m. at his high school, Holy Spirit Prep of Atlanta. The Bulldogs are one of three finalists. The other two are Kentucky and Florida State.

“If they’re still in it at this point they’ve done a good job,” said Ty Anderson, Edward’s coach at Holy Spirit.

Georgia most definitely is still in it. Edwards himself acknowledged that after scoring 41 points in Holy Spirit’s Region 1-AAA championship game this past Friday night in Duluth.

But Edwards gave no hints as to which way he is leaning, only that he’s “pretty sure” to which school he’s going to choose and he’s eager to get the decision behind him.

“I can’t wait,” Edwards said. “It’s going to take a lot of pressure off me. I won’t have too much to worry about. I can focus just on school. It’s going to be a dream come true.”

Just who is The Ant Man

Everybody who knows anything about basketball can tell you about the Ant Man. That’s the explosive, high-scoring athlete who averages 27 points and 9 rebounds a game and can literally score from anywhere on a basketball court at any moment.

Fewer know about Anthony Edwards, the person behind the cool nickname. That’s actually the way he prefers it. His is a past of great personal tragedy, but also of remarkable personal triumphs.

Edwards was raised by his mother, Yvette Edwards, and grandmother, Shirley Edwards, in the same Oakland City neighborhood that Jordan grew up. The difference is, when Jordan was coming up, Oakland City wasn’t considered one of the most dangerous and crime-ridden areas in all of Atlanta.

“When I grew up over there it wasn’t rough like it is now,” said Jordan, who’s in his 50s. “Years later, after crack came along, it took over those inner-city areas.”

But Edwards’ world came crashing down four years ago. In the same year, both his mother and grandmother died, according to Jordan. He said both women died of cancer.

“They were both very important people in his life,” Jordan said. “They raised him.”

Jordan said Edwards’ father is not involved in his life, so custody was granted to Edwards’ 25-year-old brother, Antoine. It has been between Antoine and Jordan that Edwards has received his care ever since.

“He doesn’t want that stuff talked about,” Jordan said. “He just wants to the focus to be on who is as a person and a basketball player.”

Edwards gets high marks on both of those fronts. He busted out on the basketball scene as a ninth-grader playing AAU basketball for the Atlanta Xpress. At the time he was attending Therell High School in southwest Atlanta. But it wasn’t always clear that basketball was his future.

“People don’t believe me when I tell him but he’s just as a good of a football player as he is a basketball player,” Jordan said. “When I met him in the eighth grade, he played football at the time. But it was ninth or 10th grade he got an injury. He hurt his foot. When he did, I told him he needed to layoff football for a while. I told him he could always go back to football but he wouldn’t be able to with basketball. But once he got go dedicating more time to basketball he just blossomed, more and more and more.”

It was Jordan that initiated what ended up being one of the biggest moves in Edwards’ life. They decided to transfer schools. He ended up at Holy Spirit Prep, a relatively new private Catholic school located in the North Buckhead suburbs of Atlanta.

“I felt like he needed a change,” Jordan said. “I was looking for a better situation for the young man, something that would make him better for the next 20 years of like and prepare him for college. He needed something a little more structured, something that would make him a little more polished as a young man. He needed more diversity in his life and more structure academically. He’s gotten that at Holy Spirit.”

Greg McClaire was the coach at the time. He was succeeded last year by Anderson, a four-year letterman as a basketball player at Georgia Tech and the grandson of coaching legend Lefty Driesell.

“Ant’s an extraordinary human being,” Anderson said. “He’s just a high-character, hard-working, fun-loving kid. Whichever school he says he’s going to on Monday morning, he’s going to be a great ambassador for that basketball program and for that academic institution.”

NBA definitely ‘down the road’

In Anderson, Edwards received a fresh set of eyes. Anderson starred at Oconee County High School at the same time Louis Williams was playing at South Gwinnett High. He said Edwards is the best basketball talent he’s seen.

Anthony Edwards takes off with the ball after a steal from Lance Terry of Heritage, one of the top players in the state. (Bryson Towers/DawgNation)

“I think he’s the best scorer I’ve seen in high school since Louis Williams,” Anderson said. “I played against (Williams) and he was unbelievable. Georgia almost got him, too, but he went straight to the NBA. So, yeah, there are comparisons. But I think it won’t be too long before guys are comparing the next generation to Ant. He’s going to make his own mold.”

Dan McDonald, a longtime recruiting analyst for Rivals who also runs his own basketball camps, probably has seen more of and knows more about Edwards as a basketball player than anybody.

“I’ve been saying since last summer that I think he’s the best player in the country,” McDonald said. “He’s a great athlete, really strong and powerful, and he’s become very skilled. He has NBA level moves already with room still to grow. He’s very unselfish and a great a decision-maker for most part. Along with all that, he’s just a great kid that others gravitate to.”

The NBA could be an option for Edwards as well, but at this point none of his advisers are recommending it. The NBA can be a risky path, especially without the assurance of an extended future.

Edwards is part of the first graduating high school class that would have the option of choosing the NBA’s G-League, which in 2019 will offer “select contracts” for players not yet eligible to enter the NBA draft. It offers the alternative of earning as much as $125,000 to play professional basketball in the U.S. rather than go overseas or choose the “one-and-done” in college.

Edwards told the AJC in January he prefers the college alternative. “You can only struggle for so long,” he said.

Anderson has also seen the lofty projections for Edwards as a pro, but advises him to not be in a hurry.

“There’s a lot of time – maybe 19 months – between now and the 2020 draft,” Anderson said. “There’s plenty of work he needs to do and he knows that. So he’s approaching that with humility and a workman’s mentality, getting in the gym to work on his game. As far as how the NBA fits in, I don’t know. He’s a kid who definitely focuses on the next step, whatever that is. Right now the next step is choosing college. The step after that is winning a state championship, then graduation, then college. The NBA is a little down the road.”

That’s good news for Georgia — and Kentucky and FSU as well — and that’s where Crean represents a change from the previous regime. Former coach Mark Fox often complained about the trend of college basketball powerhouses such as Kentucky, Kansas, Duke and North Carolina to recruit “one-and-done” players that had no intention of playing beyond a single season before entering the NBA draft.

Crean embraces the concept and says there’s no reason players of that pedigree shouldn’t consider Georgia as an NBA launching pad same as they would Kansas or Kentucky

“You can do everything you can do there here,” Crean said earlier this season. “And look at what this place has to offer? We have everything you could possibly need, plus a great education.”

The next Georgia great

Such an attitude has endeared Crean to Edwards’ camp and, indeed, to many in Atlanta’s tight-knit AAU community. It’s no fluke that two members of Crean’s coaching staff — Amir Abdur-Rahim and Chad Dollar — have deep ties to the AAU scene.

“Crean is amazing to us; he’s going to be the second-best thing to happen there outside of Hugh Durham,” said Jordan, a longtime presence on the Atlanta AAU scene. “He is a true teacher of basketball. He teaches his players the game and he doesn’t have just one philosophy. He’s always doing a lot of individual stuff to help develop his players. That’s important, that’s big. Coach Crean spends a lot of time making players better individually.”

Georgia has, in fact, signed great basketball players before. There’s some debate as to whether Dominique Wilkins was, in fact, the No. 1 player in the class of 1980. James Worthy was also in that class and ended up going to North Carolina. But he was definitely in the top three or four.

But one really doesn’t have to go back that far to find the Bulldogs landing some of the top players in the country. Dennis Felton signed Williams out of South Gwinnett in 2005. The 6-foot-2 guard was ranked the No. 1 player in the state and the No. 7 in the nation by Rivals that year. He ended up going straight to the NBA, where he’s now with the Los Angeles Clippers.

In 2012, Georgia landed the state’s top player again in 6-foot-6 guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Ranked 12th nationally by Rivals, Caldwell-Pope played two seasons with the Bulldogs before becoming a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Pistons. He’s now with the L.A. Lakers.

But it has probably been since Wilkins that the Bulldogs have been in position to land a player Edwards’ ilk. Not only is he considered the No. 1 prospect in the country by 247Sports.com (Rivals ranks him No. 2), but NBAdraft.net projects him as the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NBA draft.

Jordan was asked why Edwards would choose an upstart Georgia program under Crean over a tried-and-true, one-and-done factory like Kentucky has been under John Calipari.

“He respects those other universities very much,” Jordan said. “He loves Duke; he loves Kentucky. Kentucky really has him in awe right now. It’s hard to go against Kentucky basketball. But Anthony wants to write his own script, write his own chapter. He wants to write his own book. That’s him.”

McDonald and 247Sports’ Evan Daniels are both predicting Edwards to announce Georgia on Monday. Should he choose the Bulldogs, it will be considered a major upset by the college basketball world.

Jordan’s not so sure that should be the case.

“It’s been 20 years, I guess, and people tend to remember what they saw recently,” Jordan said. “Georgia is known for football, so you talk about basketball and people say, ‘ah, it’s not a basketball school.’ They forget what it used to be.”

If Crean lands Edwards, Georgia could become what it’s never been.

The post How Tom Crean put Georgia Bulldogs in position to land nation’s top basketball prospect, Anthony ‘Ant Man’ Edwards appeared first on DawgNation.

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Georgia Sports News

  • Georgia Tech jumped out to an early lead and held on against Georgia on Tuesday night at SunTrust Park, winning 8-6. The No. 11-ranked Yellow Jackets (28-13) did most of their damage in the first three innings against the No. 4-ranked Bulldogs (33-9). The teams played in front of the largest crowd to attend a college baseball game this season (18,861) in a game that benefits Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. Georgia Tech was up 7-2 lead through three innings, scoring five runs in the second on the strength of Luke Wadell’s two-run double and Kyle McCann’s three-run homer. “When you get behind the eight ball like we did early, it’s tough to claw back,” UGA coach Scott Stricklin said in a school release. “We had our chances, but didn’t get it done.” The Bulldogs looked to rally with three runs in the top of the fourth inning, Aaron Schunk homering to start the frame. Georgia batted around in the lineup to draw to 7-5 before Riley King grounded out with the bases loaded to end the threat. The Yellow Jackets manufactured an insurance run in the bottom of the fifth despite not getting a hit, taking advantage of three walks and a hit batter. The Bulldogs final run came in the top of the sixth inning on a Tucker Maxwell solo home run. Schunk, Cam Shepherd and Chaney Rogers had two hits apiece as Georgia out-hit the Yellow Jackets 10-6. Pitcher Tim Elliott (5-2) took the loss, getting stunk for six earned runs in 1 1/3 innings pitched as a result of the four hits and four walks he surrendered. Georgia Tech took two of three from Georgia this season, winning 11-2 in March in Atlanta before UGA evened the series with a 12-2 win on April 9 in Athens. The Yellow Jackets are only the second team this season to take a series from the Bulldogs this season,  The SEC-leading Bulldogs (13-5 SEC) return to action at 7:30 p.m. on Friday against No. 8-ranked Mississippi State (33-9, 10-8). State beat No. 19 Ole Miss by an 8-1 count on Tuesday night. Georgia baseball notes — Schunk’s home run was his seventh this season and his second in the stadium the Atlanta Braves call home. Schunk homered in SunTrust Park last season in Georgia’s 3-1 victory. — Pitcher Logan Moody made his first appearance since throwing a career-high eight strikeouts in the 3-2 marathon win over Clemson last week. — John Cable hit his fifth home run of the season, giving UGA a 2-1 lead in the second inning.     The post Georgia baseball falls to Georgia Tech at SunTrust Park, drops rivalry series appeared first on DawgNation.
  • CINCINNATI (AP) - Yasiel Puig gave his fans reason to cheer with his first home run for the Reds in Cincinnati. Now he wants a dining recommendation from them. Puig hit a two-run homer in the first inning off the facade of the second deck in left-center field, and the Reds wasted an early lead and then rallied to beat the Atlanta Braves 7-6 Tuesday night. Jos Peraza had his first RBIs since homering on opening day, and Tucker Barnhart homered for the Reds, who have won four of five following a four-game losing streak. A crowd of about 50 fans, mostly teenagers, occupied seats in the right field corner and chanted 'We want Puig!' before the outfielder took the field for the first inning. Many waved Puig-oriented signs, one waved a flag of Puig's native Cuba and some wore horse headgear, a reference to his 'Wild Horse' nickname. 'I was surprised to see the fans in right field cheering for me,' Puig said. 'I want to thank them for supporting me and my teammates. I saw the horses, the Cuban flag. There must be a lot of Cuban people in Cincinnati. I have to meet some of them to find a good Cuban restaurant.' Cincinnati led 3-0 in the fifth inning, fell behind 4-3 in the sixth, then scored four runs in the bottom half. 'We had a lot of good at bats,' Reds manager David Bell said. Peraza hit a two-run double off Kevin Gausman (1-2) for a 5-4 lead, Jessie Biddle forced in a run with a bases-loaded walk to pinch-hitter Phillip Ervin and Puig hit a sacrifice fly against Wes Parsons. Robert Stephenson (2-0) struck out two batters with a runner on third to end the sixth. Atlanta scored on RBI doubles by Charlie Culberson against Wandy Peralta in the seventh and Dansby Swanson off Jared Hughes in the eighth. Raisel Iglesias allowed Matt Joyce's leadoff double in the ninth, then retired Ozzie Albies, Josh Donaldson and Freddie Freeman for his fifth save in six chances. Cincinnati scored its most runs since routing Miami 14-0 on April 9. The Reds entered last in the major leagues in batting average at .197. Joey Votto walked three times and singled in his first game after missing two games due to back tightness. Swanson also tripled for the Braves. Sonny Gray tied his season high with nine strikeouts but tired in the middle innings. He allowed four runs - three earned - and six hits in 5 1/3 innings as his ERA rose from 2.79 to 3.28. He is 0-3 in five starts in his first season since the Reds acquired him from the New York Yankees. 'He didn't make many mistakes,' Freeman said. 'It's hard to be perfect, but he was pretty much perfect until the sixth.' Gausman (1-2) gave up six runs - five earned - and eight hits in 5 1/3 innings. 'His velocity was spiking up and down,' Braves manager Brian Snitker said. 'That was one of those games you grind through. He gave us a chance to win.' Puig's third home run of the season went 432 feet and was his first in Cincinnati this season, and Barnhart homered leading off the fourth. Ender Inciarte homered in the fifth and Atlanta went ahead in the sixth when Donaldson hit an RBI double and scored on a single by Freeman, who came home on Nick Markakis' sacrifice fly. ROTATIONS Snitker said LHP Max Fried (3-0, 1.38) will start Friday's series opener against visiting Colorado. The Reds have flipped the starts of right-handers Anthony DeSclafani (0-1, 5.59) and Luis Castillo (2-1), slotting Castillo will pitch against Atlanta on Thursday and DeSclafani at St. Louis on Friday. BALL FOUR Cincinnati batters had a season-high nine walks, which tied the Braves' most this season. TRAINER'S ROOM Braves: RHP Mike Foltynewicz, who hasn't pitched this season because of a right elbow bone spur, is expected to start Saturday against Colorado. Reds: OF Matt Kemp went on the 10-day IL with a broken left rib sustained when crashing into the outfield wall at San Diego on Sunday. UP NEXT Braves: RHP Mike Soroka (0-1, 1.80) is scheduled to make his first big league start on Wednesday against Cincinnati, with RHP Tanner Roark (1-0, 3.60) starting for the Reds. It will be Roark's 17th start against Atlanta, which has a .231 average against him. ___ More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • ATHENS — Georgia freshman safety Lewis Cine had a strong start to his college career at G-Day. He led all Bulldogs with his six solo tackles. The head coach also gave him some praise in the post-game media briefing. “He’s an exciting player,” Georgia coach Kirby Smart said. “He’s probably behind from a learning curve standpoint because we teach a lot of defense to our secondary.” Based on what he’s seen so far, Smart feels Cine can earn some playing time this fall. “He’s made some ‘Wow’ plays this spring but that doesn’t mean he is going to go out there and start,” he said. That means he is competing for playing time.” Here’s what we know about the nation’s No. 3 safety prospect from the last cycle: Cine is long and rangy and physical. He even tied for the team-high in total tackles with his eight stops on G-Day. Smart and new defensive backs coach Charlton Warren see he has an aptitude for versatility. It might even be necessary. Cine is one of only three defensive backs in the 2019 signing class for Georgia. That means what the fans saw at G-Day is what they will get. That’s at least in terms of new faces for 2019 in the secondary. That’s why Georgia is trying him in different roles. J.R. Reed is a fixture at one safety spot. Junior Richard LeCounte III and sophomore Otis Reese are also seen as the program’s other front-line safeties. Cine has the potential to add quality depth. “We’re making him play both safety spots which is probably more taxing on him but that gives us the ability to play him at either spot if anybody gets injured,” Smart added in response to a question about Cine’s progress. “He’s going to be competing with guys with playing time. I think where he is going to show up is on special teams. He is very physical. Likes contact. He is a hitter.” How many positions could Lewis Cine possibly play for Georgia this year? At least two. Maybe more. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation) As Smart noted, that was no secret to watching Cine on film. The Boston native can run that alley. The ability he showed on Saturday already makes him one of the most fundamentally sound tacklers in the Georgia secondary at this time. He goes about 6 feet, 3 inches and weighs in around 195 pounds. The fact he is being cross-trained at the free and strong safety says something about his aptitude for absorbing the defensive playbook. “He is a guy that listens more than he talks so that’s always a good thing,” Richard LeCounte III said this spring. “He learns quick. He’s also learning two positions just like me so we’re really going through the same things and we [do] walkthroughs and do drills and stuff like that I sit there and talk to him and say such-and-such and this and stuff like that.” LeCounte added this: When Cine gets the mental aspects of the game dialed in, he can be an “awesome” player for Georgia. Lewis Cine has a heartfelt reason why he wears No. 16 for the Bulldogs. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation) Fans already have a reaction to Lewis Cine  His last name will phonetically rhyme with “scene.” It seems like one which fans might want to get to know. DawgNation has noticed some chatter on its forums and other social media posts have fans called him that ‘Dawg in the “Six-Cine” jersey after G-Day. That meshes with the goals Cine had for himself before he enrolled in January. “What I see of myself is I am a problem solver,” Cine said back in December. “If there is a hole in the defense, then I can come up and be the solution.” He doesn’t mind obstacles. That includes placing bigger hurdles in his own path. That’s why he was a highly-rated recruit in Massachusetts after his junior year. He was getting offers and his size, speed and length got his name out there. RELATED: The remarkable personal story for Lewis Cine Lewis Cine was rated as the nation’s No. 3 safety prospect for 2019 in the last signing class on the 247Sports Composite ratings. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation) It wasn’t enough. He transferred from the Boston Metro area to a region more known for big-time high school football. Cine moved to Texas. He found plenty of 110-degree training days playing for Trinity Christian about an hour outside of Dallas. That wasn’t enough. He was under the tutelage of a true NFL all-time great there in Deion Sanders. When it came time to make his college decision, he looked at big-time options like Florida, Michigan, Penn State and Texas. But Cine has an even better story than that. He wears No. 16 and plays safety for Georgia. That’s the same number and position that Kirby Smart once held down for the Bulldogs. But that’s not why that No. 16 he wears will be special. Not to him. Cine told DawgNation that specific story when he was a recruit. He wears No. 16 to honor his mother. She had him when she was 16 years old. Cine realizes her life was hard then. He knows she made many sacrifices back in her native Haiti. He wears No. 16 to honor her. If he makes it very big in football, his hope is to one day move her stateside to America. That is when he can see her again. Lewis Cine chose Georgia over Florida, Michigan, Penn State and Texas back in October of 2018. (Jeff Sentell/DawgNation) One more thing to know about Lewis Cine Cine had an unexpected reaction to Georgia’s tough loss to Alabama in the 2018 SEC Championship game. The term “boundless optimism” applies. “The question is not ‘Can Georgia keep up and ball with Alabama?’” he wrote back in December. “Nah, that’s not it. Because no doubt in my mind we definitely can. The question is how can we chase perfection and what can make us the absolute best team we can be. To outwork yesterday and the past!” His words conveyed the stuff of a pep talk for his class. But it was one from an incoming recruit. “It is all in who believes and buys into what UGA is building,” he added. There were plenty of 2019 signees who felt the same way. “Ain’t no love lost for UGA even in a loss,” Cine stated. “I’m only ready to arrive on campus to work and be put in the right spots to help chase the goal of perfection. Then everything else will take care of itself.” The post Get to know that new safety Lewis Cine wearing No. 16 for Georgia football appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — One member of Georgia’s football recruiting office has been fired and another suspended for 30 days without pay, sources have confirmed to DawgNation. King Dacia King, who is listed as the Bulldogs’ recruiting program coordinator on the team’s website, was dismissed. Lukman Abdulai, who is director of on-campus recruiting, has been placed on a 30-day suspension without pay. The reason for the actions and whether they are related are not known at this time. “I’m not talking about any personnel stuff,” Georgia Athletic Director Greg McGarity said. “Regardless of what the position is, I just don’t comment on personnel decisions or matters. Sorry.” McGarity also declined comment when asked whether violations of NCAA or SEC rules were involved. The personnel actions come on the heels of what was thought to be an exceptional recruiting weekend for the Bulldogs surrounding the annual G-Day spring game. Georgia got a commitment from 4-star offensive lineman Akinola Ogunbiyi of Sugar Land, Texas, on Saturday, and one from 4-star defensive back Jalen Kimber of Arlington two days before. Both players attended G-Day with their families. Abdulai Georgia’s 2020 recruiting class is currently ranked No. 10 in 247Sports.com’s composite team rankings. The Bulldogs have finished with national recruiting rankings of 6, 3, 1 and 2 in last four years. King was hired into her current position in May of 2018. A recruiting program coordinator typically serves as a liaison between prospective student-athletes and the Georgia coaching staff and helps plan visits and set itineraries. She holds double degrees from UGA in marketing and sport management. Abdulai has been with Georgia since 2013 but was named director of on-campus recruiting in January of 2016, shortly after Kirby Smart became head coach.  A University of Illinois graduate, Abdulai received a masters in kinesiology from UGA in 2014. DawgNation will provide more information when it comes available. The post One fired, another suspended from Georgia’s football recruiting office appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS —  What I’m writing today is going to be unpopular with most Georgia fans. I already know that. Nevertheless I believe it needs to be said. Players probably should be devalued if they choose to skip out on their team’s bowl games. I’ve already seen that the majority reaction of the Dawg Nation on social media to the criticism and predicted drop of Deandre Baker in this week’s NFL draft is to defend the Bulldogs’ talented senior cornerback. I’d expect nothing less of this fervent fan base, which is definitely one of the best in college football. Their reaction to this week’s draft news was predictable. In a conference call with reporters on Monday, ESPN draft expert Todd McShay predicted that Baker, a projected first-round pick, could fall because of decisions he’s made and how he has handled himself in pre-draft meetings with teams. Chief among those was a last-minute decision to skip the Sugar Bowl. When McShay’s thoughts were reported, some fans viewed them as character assassination. “That’s BS! … Didn’t want to risk future!” @KarenHa17217114 exclaimed. “That’s ridiculous. … Click bait!” @MelissaRabb1 echoed. “Give me a break. Dude is a stud!” @BulldawgRob said. “Why play in the bowl game when you could hurt yourself and risk your entire career?” @BenG added. I’d reply to that last one this way: If Baker does indeed drop, that’s why. As much as anything in the world, professional sports and their respective drafts are the ultimate free markets. Teams gather as much information as they possibly can, weigh them against things like cost and risk and gain and salary cap and make their calls, always with the intention of improving their teams. Sometimes it works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. As for Baker, when he stood on stage and accepted the Jim Thorpe trophy for being named the nation’s top defensive back, his stock was sky high. In the weeks that followed, there were reports that Georgia’s senior cornerback from Miami might become a Top 10 pick. Then the NFL machine started doing its digging. Before the Bulldogs even got to New Orleans to play in the Sugar Bowl, Baker reversed on his statement at the College Football Awards Show that he ended stick with his team. This came as a bit of surprise to Georgia coach Kirby Smart, who had until the week the Bulldogs got to the bowl site thought Baker was going to play right cornerback against the Texas Longhorns. “He has decided not to play in the game,” Smart said upon arrival in New Orleans. “That’s a decision that he came to … last week, somewhere around mid-week. He was very honest about it. He was very concerned about it. We at the University of Georgia support his decision. It’s a tough decision when you look at it. He was forced to make it. He probably spoke prematurely at the Thorpe Award.” That’s all well-documented and, frankly, ancient history at this point. But it’s important first note here to know exactly what McShay said when he was asked about Baker on Monday. “Really, really good football player,” McShay said. Then came a “but.” “If he falls, part of it is going to be frustration from the coaching staff about the way he finished his career,” McShay said. “In terms of not playing in the bowl game but being around and not being the best influence. That’s the best way I can put it.” “The best way I can put it,” is the most important part of that statement. It implies McShay knows more than he’s saying but chooses not expound. It’s also important to note that McShay is not the only one who cited negative feedback from NFL personnel on Baker’s pre-draft preparation and testing. So, let’s be clear: McShay has no dog in this hunt. He’s just doing the impossible job of trying to predict what’s going to happen in the NFL draft, which begins Thursday in Nashville. So he’s got no reason to value or de-value Baker. Him and Mel Kiper and guys like them simply parrot what they’ve been hearing among NFL personnel pros, and probably half of that is rhetoric. But McShay was pretty specific here when he cites “frustration from the coaching staff” and “not being the best influence.” And it meshes with what I heard while in New Orleans, and since then. Obviously he’s spoken with Georgia coaches. What is undeniable about Baker is his talent. He didn’t test well at the NFL Combine, but he did great at UGA’s Pro Day. After running a 4.52 40 in Indianapolis, he ran the 4.4 so coveted by NFL execs before 30-something scouts inside Georgia’s Payne Indoor Athletic Facility in Center in March. And then there’s always what Baker did on the field. Famously, he did not give up a touchdown pass his final two seasons with the Bulldogs. We’ll never know whether that streak would’ve been broken against Texas in the Sugar Bowl. Maybe that’s another reason he didn’t want to play. But facts are facts and stats are stats and there’s no quibbling about that. If Baker does drop, I’d wouldn’t expect it to be too far. Last time I checked, the NFL still covets corners that thrive in one-on-one coverage. But then there’s also this: Football is the ultimate team sport. All of us can recite the adage about chains never being stronger than their weakest links. That probably goes double in football. It takes the best player playing his best at every position to compete at the highest level. And while the Sugar Bowl might not be the College Football Playoff, it’s also not the Alamo Bowl. There’s no question Baker’s absence in that game severely handicapped the Bulldogs. I get the whole argument about college football’s free labor system and players risking their NFL futures. But injury risk happens every week during the season. A player is no more at risk at a bowl game than he is any other week of the year. The real examples of a potential high-draft pick being injured in a bowl are actually very few and far between. Baker was not alone in his decision. At last count, somewhere around 20 players chose to skip their teams’ bowl games due to the risk of potential injury to their bowl stock. The irony is, the choice not to play in a bowl could actually negatively impact some of these players’ stock, Baker’s included. But that’s only fair in a free market economy. The post Ironic that skipping bowls could lower stock of NFL draft prospects like Georgia’s Deandre Baker appeared first on DawgNation.