Top recruit passes on Kentucky for surprising destination

Georgia coach Tom Crean speaks during the SEC men’s NCAA college basketball media day in Birmingham, Alabama. (AP)
Georgia coach Tom Crean speaks during the SEC men’s NCAA college basketball media day in Birmingham, Alabama. (AP)

Tom Crean’s first full recruiting class at the University of Georgia just received an adrenaline shot on Monday, as the Rivals.com No. 2 overall player in the class of 2019 announced he’s choosing to stay home and attend UGA. Anthony Edwards, a 6-foot-4 scoring guard from Atlanta, said he’ll sign with the Bulldogs over Kentucky, Florida State, North Carolina and Kansas on Monday morning.

Crean’s first season at Georgia has been rocky on the floor, as the Bulldogs are 10-13 overall and 1-9 in the SEC. But the addition of Edwards, who is ranked as the No. 1 recruit by some services, is a potential paradigm changer for the Bulldogs program.

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Edwards is the first five-star commitment to Georgia since current Los Angeles Laker Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was the No. 12 recruit in 2011. Edwards is the highest-rated UGA basketball recruit in the Rivals.com era, which began in 2002.

Rivals.com recruiting analyst Corey Evans compared Edwards to a scorer in the mold of NBA stars Bradley Beal and Victor Oladipo. Edwards is expected to be a one-and-done player and is projected as high as the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NBA draft.

“It’s a statement recruiting win for Tom Crean,” Evans said. “He beat Kentucky, UNC and Kansas for the best guard prospect nationally and the best player in his state.”

Edwards plays for Holy Spirit Preparatory School in Atlanta, where he’s considered a quintessential scorer. He ranks behind only Duke-bound Vernon Carey, a 6-foot-10 center, in the Rivals.com rankings as the country’s top player in this high school class.

The recruiting pitch from Crean to Edwards and his family revolved around the success he’s had preparing players like Dwyane Wade (Marquette) and Oladipo (Indiana) for the NBA in his previous head coaching jobs. That combined with favorable geography – Athens is only 70 miles away – made it an appealing option to Edwards.

“It was always about staying close to home,” Evans said. “That was big with him. He wanted to have the ball early and often. Tom Crean’s past with Victor Oladipo and Dwyane Wade reverberated with him.”

Edwards visited Kentucky and was scheduled to visit Florida State this past weekend before canceling. That cancelation thrust all the speculation toward Georgia, making a surprise destination not all that much of a shock in recruiting circles. Evans said that if the Bulldogs’ veteran core returns that the arrival of Edwards should propel the Bulldogs to become an NCAA tournament team in 2020. Georgia projects to return a seasoned core, including sophomore forward Rayshaun Hammonds (12.7 ppg and 6.5 rpg) and sophomore forward Nicolas Claxton (12.4 ppg and 9.1 rpg).

The two best recruiting magnets for programs are winning and players developing into NBA draft picks. If this translates into wins in the SEC and a smooth path to the NBA for Edwards, it means this recruitment could offer Georgia a chance to establish itself in the rich Atlanta talent pool.

“Everyone has always talked about why the best guys from Atlanta can’t stay home for college,” Evans said. “This is a great case study. If Anthony succeeds and excels at Georgia, it’ll give some of the other guys a greater look to UGA.”

Georgia already has two Rivals.com Top 150 players committed – forward Jaykwon Walton from Montgomery, Alabama, and forward Toumani Camara from Hollywood, Florida. This will give a jolt to Georgia’s class, which entered Monday ranking No. 47 overall on Rivals.com.

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