CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Georgia could have a decidedly different look next year in coach Mark Fox’s third season in Athens – with or without the departures of juniors Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie to the NBA.
"They both could come back, and we have a great team," Fox said. "They both could leave, and we’d have a young team. One might stay, one might go."
Georgia is adding 6-foot-51/2 Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, the high-scoring guard from Greenville High who is expected to make an instant impact.
Fox had hoped to be preparing for an NCAA tournament round of 32 game today against North Carolina, not turning his attention to next season.
He planned to hit the recruiting trail Saturday after the Bulldogs’ season ended following a 68-65 loss to Washington late Friday night in their first tournament game since 2008.
While Fox’s gameplan against Washington was to slow the pace, the Bulldogs should be able to play faster next season with a more athletic lineup and a better ability to press defensively and force more turnovers. Georgia has usually played a halfcourt style on offense because of its size inside.
Six-foot-8 center Jeremy Price has completed his eligibility and if Thompkins goes and Leslie returns, Fox would turn to a lineup of guard Gerald Robinson, Caldwell, Leslie and post players Marcus Thornton and Donte Williams. Guard Dustin Ware, who logged more minutes than any player this season and led the team with 57 3-pointers, also returns for his senior season.
"Jeremy Price is 275 pounds and he’s a good basketball player, so there was a way we had to play with Jeremy on the floor," said Fox, who also is losing senior post player Chris Barnes off the bench. "I would anticipate that you’ll see our style evolve as we get a little more mobile. This year’s team had to play a certain way and we got this far, but we’ll continue to evolve."
Caldwell-Pope will be the first McDonald’s All-American to join the Bulldogs since Carlos Strong in 1992.
Georgia is also adding a pair of post signees: 7-0 junior college center John Florveus and 6-10 power forward Tim Dixon, who played this season at Oldsmar Christian (Fla.) School after transferring from Kendrick in Columbus.
Thompkins, a 6-10 forward, led Georgia in scoring (16.4 ppg) and rebounding (7.6) and the 6-4 Leslie (14.4 ppg, 7.2 rpg) was second on the team in both categories.
For the second straight year, both are weighing their NBA options.
Players have an April 24 deadline to declare for the June NBA draft, but can withdraw by May 8th if they have not signed with an agent.
"We’ll see," Thompkins said when asked if he would at least test the draft waters to better gauge his stock.
ESPN’s Chad Ford rates Thompkins as the No. 32 overall player and Leslie as No. 36 for the 2011 draft. NBAdraft.net puts Thompkins at No. 21 for 2011 and Leslie as No. 31 in 2012 . DraftExpress.com has Leslie at No. 28 and Thompkins at No. 38.
Leslie, one of the nation’s most athletic players, said he will consider his options, but acknowledged he has "a lot of work to do" on his ballhandling and jump shooting.
"It can go either way," Leslie said. "We had a great year this year and I know if I stayed we can have an even better year next year."
The bar has been raised for the Bulldogs.
Georgia went 21-12 this season after winning 10 games two years ago and 14 last year.
After finishing in fifth or sixth place in the SEC East for seven straight years, the Bulldogs finished tied for third in the conference.
The big reward was landing their first NCAA at-large bid since 2002.
"It was an important step for our program," Fox said.
Despite the progress, there also was heartbreak in crushing close losses to Tennessee and Florida and frustration in an inability to sustain second-half leads, including losses to Vanderbilt and Alabama.
"We played hard and fought hard all year," Price said. "We fought hard to the end."
The Bulldogs weren’t a deep team (they got zero points from their bench Friday night) but rode four starters who averaged 31 minutes or more to the NCAA tournament.
"I think they understand just how hard it is to get here and how well and how hard you have to play once you’re in the tournament," Fox said
Said Ware: "We definitely made big strides this year and improved in a lot of areas, but we definitely want to take the next step and win some games in the tournament."