After summer of bonding, Georgia men’s basketball team ready for season

Georgia’s trip to Italy included some sight-seeing and shopping.

But the Bulldogs want that overseas journey to be more than a vacation when the 2012-13 season begins next month.

“I think it did wonders for the team,” Georgia forward Marcus Thornton said. “As a cultural experience, it was great for all these guys. But more than that, it was a team bonding and building experience. While you’re over there, you don’t have all the distractions and the computers and all that other stuff with the social media age. So we got to spend a lot of time with each other. That’s fun, being around with each other. It was good for the team because we’re a group of guys who like to be around each other.”

Georgia begins preseason practice on Friday with the BasketBASH preseason showcase at Stegeman Coliseum beginning at 7 p.m. The Bulldogs’ first regular-season game is on Nov. 9 against Jacksonville at Stegeman Coliseum.

“We have more pieces this year,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said. We’re a deeper basketball team. We’re more athletic. We’re a more physical group and we’re certainly a more experienced group than we were last year. We are going to miss the experience of Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware in the backcourt but that’s really the only key pieces we lost off of last year’s team. We just have more guys who are ready for (Southeastern Conference) play.”

The trip to Italy became a bit of a homecoming for sophomore forward Nemanja Djurisic, who is from Montenegro, just across the Adriatic Sea from Italy. His parents had a chance to see him play for the first time since he came to Georgia. Djurisic usually goes home to Montenegro once a year after the conclusion of the spring semester in May.

“My family came to watch a game in Venice and I got to spend I think two days with them,” Djurisic said. “I enjoyed it a lot. It was quite good. I think it was important for my parents to meet my coaches and my teammates and all the guys I’ve been interacting with for the past two years. It means a lot to me that my parents know where I am and who my coaches are and my friends. It was big.”

Georgia spent 10 days touring and playing club teams in Italy just before the fall semester began in August. In addition to giving the team some time to play and work out together during the summer, it also gave Fox an opportunity to experiment with his lineup, including putting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at point guard.

“It’s going to help us a lot,” Caldwell-Pope said of the trip. “It really helped us come together as a team because we had to depend on each other over there so that’s going to help. It was a great experience with all the sight-seeing and getting to play against some of the international teams. It was pretty great.”

Caldwell-Pope is Georgia’s leading returning scorer at 13.2 points a game. Georgia also brings back starting forwards Donte’ Williams, Djurisic and Thornton. Georgia went 15-17 overall last year, including 5-11 in the SEC.

“We didn’t have any fans over there (Italy) to help us get our momentum,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We had to depend on each other and that made us come closer together and communicate with each other. I think my game has gotten a lot better. I’ve been looking forward to playing and seeing how much.”

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