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Can Anthony Edwards Spearhead a Georgia Basketball Turnaround?

Emily Caron

In the one-and-done era, college basketball fans have grown accustomed to having to get to know a slew of new, highly-touted names and faces each season, many of whom will spend just one year on campus before moving on to the NBA. In 2019, six of the top 10 NBA draft picks were one-and-done, and eight of the 14 lottery picks overall. Not all elite freshmen will pan out, but history dictates that many of them will help headline the sport for the next year—and, for some, maybe even beyond. Just look at last year’s group of rookies we profiled: Tre Jones, Ashton Hagans, Jalen Smith and Devon Dotson lead a whopping 12 former 2018 five-stars back for a sophomore season.

With all of that in mind, SI.com will be introducing you to the top incoming freshmen in college basketball for 2019–20 and breaking down the impact those players could have. The rankings are according to RSCI Hoops, a composite that averages from 25 different expert top-100 lists. Next up is the No. 4 overall recruit, Georgia's Anthony Edwards. You can view all of the profiles to date here.

What He Means for Georgia’s Recruiting Class

The highest-ranked prospect to ever sign with the Bulldogs and the program's first five-star commit since Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in 2011, shooting guard Anthony Edwards is Georgia’s local hoops hero. The five-star Atlanta native headlines Tom Crean’s first full recruiting class in Athens. Edwards is the highest-ranked recruit of the massive seven-man crew and the only top-50 player. He’s joined by four-star small forwards Christian Brown (No. 63), Jaykwon Walton (No. 75) and Toumani Camara (No. 103) as well as four-star point guard Sahvir Wheeler (No. 85), three-star center Rodney Howard (No. 252) and three-star forward Mike Peake (No. 411). Northeastern grad transfer guard Donnell Gresham Jr. (immediately eligible) rounds out the newcomers. In just one full recruiting cycle at Georgia, Crean has been able to bring a ton of much needed talent to the Bulldogs at every position.

How He Fits

Wheeler will likely be in contention to take the starting slot at point from returners Tyree Crump (last season’s starter) and Jordan Harris (his backup). He should provide a stable presence at the point for Georgia while Edwards steps in on his wing and spearheads scoring for the rebuilding Bulldogs in light of William Jackson’s graduation. Gresham is immediately available to back him up, as are Jordan Harris and Tye Fagan. Crean has plenty of depth in his backcourt and several players who can pretty readily slide into the one or two slots, like Harris, Fagan and even Edwards. The 6’5”, 225-pound wing will be looked upon to replace some serious production in light of the team losing losing two of its top three scorers from 2018–19 (forwards Nicolas Claxton and Derek Ogbeide) and to produce more on the perimeter than Jackson managed during his tenure in Athens.

Edwards possesses a unique blend of strength, speed and body control that give him tremendous upside. He’s an extremely physically gifted get for Georgia, with decent length, a strong build and good overall size. He’s most effective with the ball in his hands in a James Harden-esque way and is an incredibly versatile asset, which is why the McDonald’s All-American could also be handed the keys to run point, where he creates an immediate matchup problem for most opponents. Nicknamed ‘AntMan,’ Edwards boasts an explosive athleticism, above average handles and a nimbleness that helps him navigate seemingly effortlessly in traffic. He’s a good passer with great vision and an aggressive scorer. He can break down defenders and is a terrific finisher at the rim, has developed into a solid threat from three and is also well-equipped to wreak havoc in the mid-range and make shots off the catch or on the move. As a senior, Edwards averaged 25.7 points, 9.6 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.1 steals and 1.1 blocks per game, doing damage across a slew of stats. He’s a capable playmaker but his decision-making could use some polish and he needs to work on his shot selection. His potential is sky-high. The McDonald’s All-American also brings a defensive boost to Crean’s young squad thanks to his sheer physical ability. Edwards should be expected to shoulder a heavy load this season.

With Harris, Brown, Walton, Camara all also available on the wing at the three and returner Rayshaun Hammonds—the team’s No. 2 scorer from last season–back to anchor the forwards, the Bulldogs have options up front. Sophomore Amanze Ngumezi is also available, but the team needs someone to step up at center with both of last year’s five-spot options gone. Howard could find himself helping out early on, or Crean could go a little smaller and see what happens.

Importance to Georgia's Success/Team Outlook

Things are definitely looking up in for the Bulldogs. Between Crean’s successful recruiting cycle and Edwards’s arrival, things are looking promising for Georgia’s program. If it hadn’t lost Claxton to the draft, this team could’ve been in the top-25 conversation preseason. But there’s still reason for optimism thanks to this incoming crew. Edwards brings a level of talent to the team that’s been lacking for a longtime in Athens, and the Bulldogs ceiling could easily wind up mirroring his own. While a deep run in the NCAA tournament (Georgia hasn’t made an appearance since 2015) is probably out of reach, a bubble berth isn’t out of the question, especially if Edwards meets the lofty expectations that await him. While his stay at Georgia will almost surely not be a long one, the ripple effect of his commitment, in a best-case scenario, could be long-lasting. Georgia’s program is trending in a positive direction, largely thanks to the state’s local hoops hero staying home.