With the departure of Southeastern Conference Player of the Year Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the NBA‚Äôs Detroit Pistons, it‚Äôs a new, and somewhat uncertain, day for the Georgia men‚Äôs basketball team.
But even with Caldwell-Pope‚Äôs decision to leave Athens after his sophomore year, the Bulldogs‚Äô cupboard is far from bare. Georgia will return no less than eight players with considerable game-time experience.
‚ÄúEven if Kentavious had come back to school, we would have been a more balanced scoring team this year,‚Äù Georgia coach Mark Fox, now entering his fifth season at the head of the program, said. ‚ÄúWe just have more guys who are prepared to finish at this level. But (Caldwell-Pope‚Äôs absence) is the No. 1 question everybody asks because he had such a terrific finish to the year last year.
‚ÄúAnd one guy can‚Äôt replace that ‚Äî it‚Äôs not fair to say, ‚ÄòHey Kenny Gaines, you go do what Kenvatious did.‚Äô It‚Äôs going to have to be committee, but even if he‚Äôd been back we‚Äôd be more balanced. And I think we need more scoring anyway.‚Äù
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.
‚ÄúEverybody has to step up where Kentavious left off and we‚Äôve got to fill in,‚Äù senior forward Donte‚Äô Williams said. ‚ÄúEverybody is ready to play a bigger role this year.‚Äù
So of course the Bulldogs‚Äô big quest this winter will be to make up those points, and it‚Äôs 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.
‚ÄúDonte‚Äô is so much more physical than he was a year ago,‚Äù Fox, who is 65-63 in four years at Georgia, said. ‚ÄúNeme 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‚Äôm not going to say Marcus Thornton is as athletic as he was when he came (here), but he‚Äôs 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‚Äôve lacked.
The return of the 6-8, 235-pound Thornton ‚Äî who had endured a trio of knee surgeries while at Georgia, the last of which allowed his presence in but nine games last year ‚Äî should be a boon to the Bulldogs, if he can stay healthy.
‚ÄúI feel great, the best I‚Äôve ever felt. I‚Äôm going in ready to go,‚Äù Thornton said. ‚ÄúThis is the best I‚Äôve felt mentally and more important, it‚Äôs the best I‚Äôve 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.‚Äù
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‚Äôs likely the Bulldogs will utilize its seasoned depth to its fullest.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôve got a lot of guys coming back from last year, so experience is going to be an important factor for us,‚Äù Williams said. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôre a deep team with a lot of guys that can play.‚Äù
‚ÄúI don‚Äôt think we‚Äôll start out (using every player) but I think we can play a lot of guys,‚Äù Fox said. ‚ÄúThe game‚Äôs going to be officiated much different this year and we may need a lot of guys. There‚Äôs a real emphasis on cleaning up the college game and you don‚Äôt usually see a lot of guys foul out because there haven‚Äôt been a lot of fouls called. This year I think you‚Äôll see a lot more things whistled and I think you‚Äôll see a lot more guys foul out, so we‚Äôre going to need a deep team. I wouldn‚Äôt be surprised if we‚Äôre playing 10 or 11 early.‚Äù
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.