ATHENS – They won’t go down as one of Georgia’s most accomplished bunches and many that should be among them won’t be when the Bulldogs’ seniors are honored before Saturday’s regular-season finale. But all-in-all they were darn good Dogs, according to coaches and teammates.
Four players will be recognized during Senior Day festivities before the Bulldogs tip off against South Carolina at 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Stegeman Coliseum. On paper they are a four-year letterman (Dustin Ware), a transfer (Gerald Robinson) and two walkons who stuck it out and earned scholarships (Matt Bucklin and Connor Nolte). But all of them are equal in their contributions to the team in the eyes of head coach Mark Fox.
“Because we lost those guys early, all the responsibility of leadership and scoring and teaching guys to defend all kind of fell on those seniors,” said Fox, who’s in his third season with the Bulldogs. “This has probably been as dependent as we’ve been on a senior group, ever really, even my time as an assistant coach. But I think at the end of the day it will have been a great experience for them.”
Guard Travis Leslie and forward Trey Thompkins each chose to enter the NBA draft a year early. Both were selected in the second round and ended up with the Los Angeles Clippers. However, Leslie, a 6-foot-4 guard, was sent down to the NBA’s Developmental League this week.
With them and last year’s 30.8 points and 14.8 rebounds, Georgia likely would have been headed to a second consecutive NCAA Tournament berth. Without them, the Bulldogs (13-16, 4-11) need a victory over South Carolina (10-19, 2-13) – coupled with an Auburn loss to LSU — to have a chance to finish 10th in the 12-team SEC
“I don’t think they handled it perfectly,” Fox said of the burden placed on the upperclassmen. “I thought Gerald and Dustin tried to do too much early. But I admire how they tried to do more than they should have.”
Robinson, a Nashville native whose father teaches and coaches at Tennessee State, started his career there before transferring to UGA and sitting out during Fox’s first season. He was able to play as a junior and was a big reason the Bulldogs earned an NCAA bid.
“Last year he was the difference in the team,” Fox said of Robinson, who leads the Bulldogs in scoring and assists. “He brought an element to the team that we didn’t have before and that helped us get into the NCAA tournament. It wasn’t the only reason we got into the tournament but he certainly made a huge difference. This year, I think he’s had a very good conference season. I think he has proven what he thought, that he could play at a high level.”
Ware has endured the worst shooting slump of his career a year after leading the SEC in 3-point shooting. But he remains a consummate leader and captain.
“Dustin has been a great model of stability,” Fox said. “He’s always been considered one of the hardest workers. You never doubted what kind of effort he was going to put in during the season, out of the season. He has been a constant performer in the classroom and you never worried if he was going to have success or not. He’s been a great citizen. He’s really epitomized what a student-athlete should be.”
Others who also could have been part of this class were Ebuka Anyorah and Drazen Zlovarich, each of whom transferred out.
Here’s a thumbnail sketch of each senior and what they’ll remember most about their time as Georgia basketball players.
GERALD ROBINSON JR.