Saying Georgia should hire Virginia Commonwealth’s Anthony Grant or Bob Knight or the top available coaching candidate, of course, is very easy. Georgia basketball fans, since they are fans, are right to assume a big name wants to coach in Athens and revive the program.
But is this realistic? To get an unbiased gauge on the national perception of Georgia basketball, I asked several college hoops analysts and coaches for their opinions on the Bulldogs’ program.
Here are the positives: The talent base is phenomenal, the SEC is less than intimidating right now and the practice facility is new. The negatives: Dennis Felton really had to beg for that practice facility, the commitment to basketball seems minuscule to football, and the East — with coaches Bruce Pearl, Billy Gillispie and Billy Donovan — is the more difficult SEC division.
“I think Georgia is viewed as a very attractive job because of the talent in the area, although I know there is some concern among coaches about how much freedom the guy who’s in that job will have,” The Sporting News college basketball analyst Mike DeCourcy wrote in an e-mail. “Right or wrong, there’s a perception that some disciplinary issues are handled for you, that the coach can’t run the program exactly as he sees fit.”
Well, that could absolve Felton from some blame for the mass exodus that seemed to occur every year in Athens. You know other coaches read about talented players such as Mike Mercer (for being a “disruption”?), Billy Humphrey and Takais Brown getting booted and questioned the rules in place regarding dismissals.
I still believe Georgia can and should dominate the SEC thanks to a plethora of talent an hour from the school. Heck, if Felton had just signed Norcross High School basketball players (think Jodie Meeks, Gani Lawal and Al-Farooq Aminu), he probably would still have a job. ESPN’s Jay Bilas agrees, saying, “You don’t have to go far to find good talent, and that gives you a good opportunity.”
DeCourcy isn’t as convinced, saying Georgia “could be” a sleeping giant but wants to see more commitment to the program.
“There are so many great players in the state. I think it’s fair to wonder if Georgia basketball wants to be a giant, though,” he wrote. “We’ve seen at other football schools, like Florida or Texas or Ohio State, that they’ll invest some of what they make in football to be great in basketball. Georgia has some progress to make in that area.”
Said Tennessee coach Bruce Pearl: “I think the perception is that Georgia is a great job. Georgia is probably in the most fertile recruiting ground in the country. Atlanta has put out great players for a long time, and in the last decade a lot of guys have wound up playing in the NBA. Georgia has a great following, a brand-new practice facility and offices. The toughest part of that job is being in the SEC East.”
And then there’s the case of Knight. I think hiring Knight would be a monumental mistake. Georgia needed a disciplinarian after landing on probation, and Felton kept the program out of more trouble. So now you hire ... another noted disciplinarian? Yes, Knight also is a great teacher of the game, maybe the greatest ever, but it seems that he would have been a better option for Georgia’s situation five years ago.
Georgia has that one tremendous advantage with all the talent in Atlanta. It seems the Bulldogs should take advantage of that situation and hire a noted recruiter instead of a 68-year-old man. Bilas disagrees with me.
“I think he would be a great fit at Georgia,” Bilas said of Knight. “Now that’s not something I know anything about as far as people contacting him or anything. But I do know he would be a really, really good fit there.”
DeCourcy takes the other side: “I think Knight is a genius, probably the best teacher of the game who ever lived. I do not think that great talent can be persuaded to play for him, and Georgia has the opportunity to attract so many great players because of its location. Why would they volunteer to give that up?”
DeCourcy suggests hiring Grant, Miami’s Frank Haith or Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin. Grant, with his recruiting background at Florida, is the obvious pick. Haith is succeeding in Miami, where basketball interest is low. Cronin built a solid Cincinnati squad from scratch. All three would be great for Georgia. But would Georgia be great for them?
E-mail Darren Epps at firstname.lastname@example.org