Bulldogs to use by-committee approach to replace Caldwell-Pope’s scoring production

With the departure of Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the NBA’s Detroit Pistons, it’s a new, and somewhat uncertain, day for the Georgia men’s basketball team.

But even with Caldwell-Pope’s decision to leave Athens after his sophomore year, the Bulldogs’ cupboard is far from bare. Georgia will return no less than eight players with considerable game-time experience.

“Even if Kentavious had come back to school, we would have been a more balanced scoring team this year,” Georgia coach Mark Fox, now entering his fifth season at the head of the program, said. “We just have more guys who are prepared to finish at this level. But (Caldwell-Pope’s absence) is the No. 1 question everybody asks because he had such a terrific finish to the year last year.

“And one guy can’t replace that — it’s not fair to say, ‘Hey Kenny Gaines, you go do what Kenvatious did.’ It’s going to have to be committee, but even if he’d been back we’d be more balanced. And I think we need more scoring anyway.”

In his final season at Georgia, Caldwell-Pope averaged 18.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game and exhibited on-court leadership far beyond his years. The Bulldogs finished the 2012-13 season at 15-17 and went 9-9 in the SEC, just the third time in the last decade Georgia has finished at .500 or better in league play.

“Everybody has to step up where Kentavious left off and we’ve got to fill in,” senior forward Donte’ Williams said. “Everybody is ready to play a bigger role this year.”

So of course the Bulldogs’ big quest this winter will be to make up those points, and it’s likely that Georgia will depend on its big men to bring up their numbers in the paint. That responsibility will no doubt rest with the 6-foot-9 Williams (5.1 points, 4.8 rebounds per game), 6-7 Brandon Morris (4.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg) and 6-8 Nemanja Djurisic (7.9 ppg, 4.3 rbg), among others.

“Donte’ is so much more physical than he was a year ago,” Fox, who is 65-63 in four years at Georgia, said. “Neme is more physical and (6-10 junior) Tim (Dixon) is stronger and more battle ready and (6-10 junior) John Cannon is more physically ready. I’m not going to say Marcus Thornton is as athletic as he was when he came (here), but he’s returned to a very explosive form. To this point, we look much more physical around the bucket which is going to be important for us, which is something we’ve lacked.

The return of the 6-8, 235-pound Thornton — who had endured a trio of knee surgeries while at Georgia, the last of which allowed his presence in but nine games last year — should be a boon to the Bulldogs, if he can stay healthy.

“I feel great, the best I’ve ever felt. I’m going in ready to go,” Thornton said. “This is the best I’ve felt mentally and more important, it’s the best I’ve felt physically. I just try to remain as positive as possible, not just for myself but for everybody else. I want to show by example that positivity is the best way you can be, physically.”

Georgia will also return seasoned backcourt players Charles Mann (6.7 ppg), who was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team, and Gaines (3.7 ppg). There are, however, seven new names on the roster, so it’s likely the Bulldogs will utilize its seasoned depth to its fullest.

“We’ve got a lot of guys coming back from last year, so experience is going to be an important factor for us,” Williams said. “We’re a deep team with a lot of guys that can play.”

“I don’t think we’ll start out (using every player) but I think we can play a lot of guys,” Fox said. “The game’s going to be officiated much different this year and we may need a lot of guys. There’s a real emphasis on cleaning up the college game and you don’t usually see a lot of guys foul out because there haven’t been a lot of fouls called. This year I think you’ll see a lot more things whistled and I think you’ll see a lot more guys foul out, so we’re going to need a deep team. I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re playing 10 or 11 early.”

Georgia began practice last week and will officially kick off the 2013-14 season at 7 p.m. Friday with Basketbash! at Stegeman Coliseum. The Bulldogs will host UNC-Pembroke in an exhibition game on Nov. 4 and will open the season on Nov. 8, hosting Wofford.

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RT @MikeOrganWriter: Correction. New #TSU coach is Illinois associated HC Dana Ford. Earlier information was incorrect. #ovc

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