Williams moves front and center for Bulldogs

Before he arrived at Georgia, Donte’ Williams envisioned himself getting minutes in college as a power forward or even a small forward.

That was before the Bulldogs’ frontcourt had an overhaul this past offseason.

“We’ve got a lot of new guys that just don’t know the position, so whatever the team needs,” said Williams, a sophomore who is playing out of position, often at center.

While Marcus Thornton has been out after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery, Williams has headed up a frontcourt that includes first-year players Nemanja Djurisic, John Florveus and Tim Dixon.

It’s quite a change from last season when Georgia had big bodies in Trey Thompkins, Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes to lean on.

Thompkins left for the NBA after his junior season and Price and Barnes graduated. Williams has gone from a reserve averaging six minutes per game last season to starting every game this year.

“The hardest thing playing (center) is probably playing bigger guys,” said the 6-foot-9, 215-pound Williams, who said he weighed 197 pounds when he first stepped on campus after playing at Miller Grove in Lithonia where he was the Class AAAA player of the year. “I’m not a really physical guy myself, but sometimes when you play guys that are physical you’ve got to be physical with them.”

So far in SEC play, Williams has gone up against Florida’s Patric Young and Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezeli, projected top 25 NBA prospects by DraftExpress.com, and Alabama’s JaMychal Green, a preseason All-SEC selection.

“It’s been fun going against guys like that,” Williams said. “You always want to play against the best players. I’ve been working hard all summer for it. …I’m probably holding my own against them.”

Georgia (9-8, 0-3 SEC) hasn’t had much fun at the end of those games since its lost all three, but pushed Vanderbilt in Nashville in a 77-66 loss. The Bulldogs open a three-game homestand tonight against Tennessee (8-9, 1-2).

Williams scored 12 against Vanderbilt, including skying for a one-handed jam off a missed Georgia 3-pointer.

“He really has shown some progress,” Georgia coach Mark Fox said Tuesday. “He is beginning to get comfortable in scoring the ball and I think he’s really matured as a player. He’s still got two and a half years of his career in front of him.”

Williams is averaging 7.5 points and 5.2 rebounds per game and leads the Bulldogs with 24 blocked shots including when he swatted down a three-point try Saturday from Vanderbilt sharp shooter John Jenkins.

“I think he does a really good job of moving, getting around the rim, blocking shots, being very active,” said Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin. “I like the way he plays. I think he has a great, great future in front of him. …He’s one of those long, wiry guys that you don’t want to get in trouble with fouling him because he has that quick step and he can get around you. More important, you’ve got to keep him off the glass and make his touches difficult.”

Georgia could use some help on the glass in the form of Thornton.

Fox didn’t rule out Georgia’s leading rebounder returning as early as tonight. Thornton was to see a doctor on Tuesday to. exam his injured right knee.

“I think we’re close,” Fox said, but added “even if we got him back soon it would be something on how guarded on how much we put him on the practice floor or the game floor just to make sure we get him 100 percent healthy.”

Fox says Williams is still developing physically and the coaching staff worries about the wear and tear on his body.

Williams has fouled out three times, tied for the most in the SEC.

“I’ve just got to play smart,” Williams said. “A couple of plays I’ve just got to back off. I can’t be really aggressive because the whistle may get blown.”

“I feel like he’s been transitioning well,” senior guard Gerald Robinson said. “Even though he’s been playing out of position, he doesn’t complain or anything. He just takes on the challenges everyday.”

Tennessee at Georgia

WHEN/WHERE: 8 p.m. today/Stegeman Coliseum.

TV/RADIO: Peachtree-TV/AM-960 The Ref.

RECORDS: Tennessee (8-9, 1-2 SEC); Georgia (9-8, 0-3 SEC).

PROBABLE STARTERS: Tennessee–G Josh Richardson (Fr., 6-6, 186, 3.1 ppg, 1.4 rpg); G Trae Golden (Jr., 6-1, 209, 14.2 ppg, 5.4 apg); G Cameron Tatum (R.Sr., 6-7, 193, 9.4 ppg, 3.8 rpg); F Jeronne Maymon (R.Jr., 6-3, 210, 11.5 ppg, 7.7 rpg); F Renaldo Woolridge (Sr., 6-9, 215, 5.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg). Georgia‚ÄîG Dustin Ware (Sr., 5-11, 172, 8.6 ppg, 2.1 apg); G Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (Fr., 6-5, 200, 14.5 ppg, 5.0 rpg); G Gerald Robinson (Sr., 6-1, 180, 13.4 ppg, 3.4 apg); F Nemanja Djurisic (Fr., 6-8, 230, 6.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg); F/C Donte‚Äô Williams (So., 6-9, 220, 7.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg).

SERIES: Tennessee leads 92-52 and has won eight of the last 10. Georgia leads 34-33 in Athens.

LAST MEETING: Georgia beat the Volunteers 69-63 in Knoxville on Feb. 19, 2011 for its first win there since 2001. The Bulldogs jumped to a 22-7 lead and were led by Jeremy Price’s 20 points and 15 from Travis Leslie.

SEASON AT A GLANCE: Tennessee has lost three of its last four games, but looks like a team to be reckoned with lately under first year coach Cuonzo Martin. The former Purdue star replaced the fired Bruce Pearl after spending the previous three seasons as coach at Missouri State.

The Vols beat Florida 67-56 on Jan. 7, lost by four at Mississippi State and 65-62 at home to No. 2 Kentucky on Saturday. “They came after us,” said Kentucky coach John Calipari, who called Tennessee a “physical, halfcourt defensive team.” The Vols lost four straight in nonconference play to Oakland, Pittsburgh, Austin Peay and College of Charleston before winning four straight. …Georgia begins a three-game homestand still searching for its first SEC win. The Bulldogs stayed close to Vanderbilt before falling 77-66 on Saturday. “We won’t get into moral victories because I don’t believe in them,” coach Mark Fox said Tuesday. “We haven’t finished the job.”

NOTEWORTHY: Tennessee freshman forward Jarnell Stokes, a top 20 recruit nationally, will be playing his second college game tonight. The 6-foot-8, 250-pound Memphis product graduated high school and played his first game against Kentucky, scoring nine points and grabbing four rebounds in 17 minutes. “One of the biggest adjustments for any freshman is the physical adjustment because guys are so much older and stronger,” Fox said. “I thought Jarnell, obviously with his body, is not going to have any issue with that. …He gives them another physical presence.”…Georgia’s Caldwell-Pope is eighth in the league in scoring and tied for fourth in steals at 1.71. He’s averaging 16.3 ppg in SEC play in 35 minutes per game. “I’ve played him way too much since Marcus (Thonrton’s) injury,” Fox said. …The Volunteers are shooting 45.9 percent from the field, sixth in the SEC. Georgia’s opponents have hit 52.2 percent in the first three SEC games. “A lot of it is instead of getting a stop and helping our defensive percentage, we’re getting a foul,” said Fox, whose team had three players foul out against Vanderbilt. …Tennessee is 0-4 on the road this season. …Maymon is a transfer from Marquette who averaged 9.1 minutes per game last season after becoming eligible midseason.

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