ATHENS — With Marcus Thornton’s sudden and unexpectedly early return to the Georgia basketball team, we’re probably going to be seeing less of Jay Rome on the basketball court going forward
As it was, we were getting only tiny glimpses of the Bulldogs’ highly-touted tight end when it came to playing round ball. After joining the hoops squad following Georgia’s January 2 bowl game. The 6-foot-6, 253-pound forward played an average of 1.7 minutes in just three contests and hasn’t recorded a point.
But to use that as a measure of Rome’s athleticism and basketball-playing abilities would be missing the point. Regardless of minutes played or points scored, both Georgia football coach Mark Richt and basketball coach Mark Fox are glad Rome is doing what he’s doing.
Rome’s presence on the basketball team added front-court depth at a time the Bulldogs’ desperately needed it, not just in games but, more importantly, in practice. And all parties believe his college basketball experience is only going to enhance Rome’s play on the football field.
“It will really help him I think,” said Fox, who is in his third season as the Bulldogs’ basketball coach. “I think it will improve his ability to change directions, move in short spaces. I think it will help his conditiotning. I definitely think it will help him.”
Rome, whose father Stan was a two-sport star at Clemson, is one of those guys who grew in Valdosta with basketball as his first love. He played AAU ball very early in life and was all-region and made some all-state teams at at Valdosta High, where he averaged 25 points and 12 rebounds as a senior.
But it became evident early in Rome’s high school career that his size was better suited to football. ESPN.com ranked him the No. 1 tight end prospect in the country before he signed with the Bulldogs last February.
So that sport remains Rome’s main focus. Anything that happens for him on the basketball court is just gravy.
“He would be a good player,” if he concentrated on basketball full time, Fox said, adding, “that’s obviously not ever going to be the case. . . . It would depend on what his body would end up looking like. What position would he end up playing if he ever did that?”
As it is, Rome definitely looks like a football player playing basketball. His thick upper body dwarfs the relatively lilthe frames of his fellow hoopsters when he’s playing round ball.
But for Rome, this is still all about what it can do for him in football. And he believes it’s doing a lot.
“I think it’s going to help me tremendously,” Rome said. “Just from the last month or so of playing basketball I can feel myself being way more athletic. Coming into basketball I was getting tired going up and down the court a little bit, wasn’t able to jump with the rest of the guys as far as rebounds or maybe dunking the ball. Now I just feel like I can get up and down the court. I know I’m quicker than I was. I know I’m a lot more explosive. I’m dunking the ball with no problem. I just think it’s going to help me and I know it’s going to transfer on the football field just being faster, quicker out of my breaks, quicker out of my cuts, footwork off of blocks.
“If the ball’s a little high and I need to go up and get it, I believe I can go up and get it over anybody.”
Obviously, Rome’s value to the football team escalated with the recent decision of All-American Orson Charles to turn pro following his junior season. Rome, who was redshirted this past season, will be one of three tight ends on the roster, joining rising junior Arthur Lynch and expected 2012 signee Ty Smith. So the Bulldogs will be looking for major contributions from Rome next fall.
Rome aims to be ready for the challenge.
“Once basketball is over I’ll be jumping straight back into football with weightlifting and training,” Rome said. “Even though I’m down on my weight a little bit for basketball, I want to keep going down then put back muscle mass once spring starts back. I’m going to hit the weight room really hard and try to put back on muscle the right way and keep all the athleticism I’ve gained from playing basketball.”
Rome knows after a redshirt year he has a lot to work on to become the kind of football player he wants to be.
“I need to work a lot on my blocking technique, my strength and just the little things in my route-running,” Rome said. “Just maybe steps, her, steps there, getting in and out of breaks. Just polishing the little thing.”
Meanwhile, Rome said he’s just thankful for getting the chance to experience both sports in college. It’s a difficult thing to do, especially with the added challenge of balancing academics. He’s been able to maintain in that regard, too. Football teammate Nick Marshall, a defensive back who was a four-star basketball prospect, hasn’t yet gotten the chance to try it.
“I’m just grateful that Coach Fox and Coach Richt gave me the opportunity to do both,” Rome said. “I’ve been having a fantastic time getting to know the guys on the football team and now being able to bond with some of the guys on the basketball team. I just feel like I’m making a lot of good friendships that will last for a lifetime.”
He has certainly acquired a good friend and big fan in Fox.
“He’s promised me he’ll dunk a ball over a goal post if he scores a touchdown,” Fox said. “I said that’s great except that you’ll get a penalty and Coach Richt will be beating my door down. So we’re going to nix that plan.”
Following are some other comments from Rome and Fox:
- On challenges of playing two sports . . .
“At the beginning of the season, splitting time with basketball and football, it was kind of tough just to stay in shape. I might have a weekend or so topracticve basketball and get in shape and then I’d have to go back to football. But since the bowl game I’ve basically been practicing with the basketball team full time and I’ve been able to get in better shape and be able to get up and down the court a little better. I’ve lost a few pounds. Everybody’s helping me out, helping me learn everything .
- On his role on basketball team . . .
“I’m just getting minutes here and there and where I can, however I can help the team. Just come in when I can and be somebody who can be strong in the low post and still be quick and be able to guard guys from the low post out to the perimeter. Just give us a little better of an undersized 4-man who may be able to play some of the 3, too.
- On being bigger than most basketball players . . .
“Actually I’m a lot smaller than I was during football season. I was around 262 and now I’m about 253. So the weight has come off just getting into basketball shape and I feel great. I’m moving better, getting up and down the court, my quickness and rebounding and going up for the ball, that all feels great. And I feel like that’s going to transfer over to the football field once I get back and make me a better tight end and route and better with footwork.”
- On Orson Charles turning pro . . .
“It’s something I kind of anticipated, but I wasn’t really sure whether he was or not. So when I heard it I was happy for him. Orson, I’ve only known him for a semester, but he’s just a great guys and he deserves it. He works hard and he tried to teach me everything he could whenever I was around him. He just deserves it. . . . I knew when I heard it, I just told myself, I said, ‘OK, I’m in basketball now but, by the time it’s over with, there’s no time for rest. I’m gonna get right back into it and fill that spot as best I can.’
- On first year at UGA . . .
“It’s been fun. It’s always a big jump going from one level to the next. Coming from high school to college, you just have to get used to it. With the football and the basketball both, everybody’s better, so you have to push yourself to be better.”
- On the difficulties of Rome playing two sports . . .
“The toughest part is he missed all the breakdown drills on defense, he missed the implementation of 70 percent of our system our more, probably three-quarters of it. Then to practice two days, then be gone for five, then be gone for a couple of weeks, that’s a real challenge for any freshman. But he’s a great kid. Smart. . . . He may not this year ever know all the details. He won’t. He just missed too much. But he makes up for it. He’s very bright. The thing about a football guy is he just sees schemes so much better than a lot of guys. Maybe that’s his football background, I don’t know. But he’s very bright.
- On whether he recruited Rome in basketball . . .
“We saw Jay Rome play in like one summer tournament. We did see him in high school. But he’s a star of the gridiron.”
- On whether Rome can improve as basketball court . . .
“Oh yeah. He’s just part time. That’s just so hard to do. As he gets older, next year when he comes out, he’ll know so much more when he starts on day one and he’ll just add to that knowledge base. He started from scratch this year. And I give him a great deal of credit because he’s really picked things up rather quickly. But we don’t have him enough to know exactly what he can and can’t do.”
- On whether Nick Marshall is coming out for basketball . . .
“I don’t anticipate having Nick at all this year. In the future, we haven’t ruled that out.”