ATHENS – We interrupt this Georgia football panic attack to bring you this important news bulletin: It’s basketball time, or at least about to be.
The Georgia women’s team started practices this past Sunday and the men’s team gets under way on Friday night at Stegeman Coliseum. Both squads are going big with the old “Midnight Madness” theme, only rules this year will allow such events to start as early as 5 p.m. this year. The “2012 Georgia Basketbash” will run from 7-10 p.m. Admission is free and there will be lots of giveaways and such in addition to a sneak-a-peak at the team.
To that end, men’s coach Mark Fox and Lady Bulldogs’ coach Andy Landers held a joint news conference Tuesday to talk about the upcoming season. Some players are supposed to be available later.
In the meantime, I figured I’d give you a quick what-you-need-to-know update and share of some of the insights on the men’s team. So here you go . . .
GEORGIA MEN’S BASKETBALL.
On general outlook . . .
“I’m excited about our season. I really like this team. This is the first team I’ve had at Georgia where I recruited every player. We have a culture amongst our team that I’m excited about. We have some new faces and, unlike last year, we return a lot of production. So this is a group I’m looking forward to coaching.”
On makeup of team . . .
“We have more pieces this year. We’re a deeper basketball team, we’re more athletic than we were, we’re a more physical group, certainly a more experienced group. We’re going to miss the experience of Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware in the backcourt. But that’s the only keep pieces we lost and I think we just have more guys who are ready for SEC play.”
On progress of forward Marcus Thornton, who has had two knee injuries, including one at the end of this past season. . . .
“He’s right near 100 percent. He’s been doing everything in our workouts. We will continue to be very cautious with Marcus. He will probably get frustrated with me because I’m going to make sure that we proceed very slowly with him. He’s going to be cleared to practice and be ready to play and looks very good in our workouts. But he’s also a young man who has had two knee surgeries and he’s got some tread on those tires. So we have to be careful.”
How frontcourt might look different . . .
“Donte can play some at the 5, some at the 4. I think John Florveus physically is so much stronger than he was last year. Tim Dixon had a great trip to Italy. John Cannon played very well in Italy. I feel like we have four guys that can play that spot, which allows us to move Donte to the 4. Or if we want to be athletic and quick we can play Donte at the 5 and Marcus at the 4 and Nemi at the 4. We just have a lot more options at our disposal.”
On leadership provided by players . . .
“I love Dustin and Gerald. I’m not sure either were great leaders. They were terrific players but both kind of quiet kids. Leadership is an area we need to fill and we need to find somebody who’s ready to fill that void. We will not appoint a leader. We’re not going to have a vote and elect a captain. We’ve never done that. When leadership is required it will emerge. I think we saw that some on our foreign trip with some players who were willing to take the reins of our team and point it in the right direction. Sherrard Brantley was terrific in the off-season, Kentavious Caldwell, Nemi Djurisic, all those guys had some terrific moments in leadership. It’s going to take everybody.”
On expectations this season . . .
“This team will have expectations that all teams have had that are fair. We expect them to act right, play hard, represent their school the right way. I think the talent is different than we’ve had in other years. Last year we were limited with the departure of those guys early. The year before we had pieces but they were different. We don’t have a 290-pound body up front. But we have some longer, athletic guys on the perimeter. Expectaitons are unique and different for each team but some stay the same.”
On expectations for Caldwell-Pope . . .
“Kentavious is naturally a quiet, soft-spoken young man. But when the scoreboard is on and we start playing, his personality changes. He cares about winning, he cares about playing hard. Sometimes we have to slow him down. He picked up a foul or two last year because he didn’t know how to control his motor because he was so aggressive. He had a very good freshman year in so many ways, but there is so much room for improvement and he understands that. He’s going to have to shoot a higher percentage; he’s going to have to become a more efficient scorer. He was the focal point of most of the defenses at the end of last year and that will be the case again this year. He’ll be an improved player, a more physical player and he’ll play some at point guard. He’s a better ball-handler and more poised in the backcourt. Hopefully we’ll see a lot of improvements in him.”
On challenging non-conference schedule, which includes trips to New York to face Indiana and Georgetown or UCLA, South Florida for the SEC-Big East Challenge, Georgia Tech and facing Southern Cal at home. . . .
“The goal in non-conference scheduling is to create a schedule that will give you a great strength-of-schedule for your postseason resume. You don’t sharpen your teeth eating bread pudding. . . . And this is a league I think you’ll see at least seven teams in the [NCAA] tournament, maybe eight. We’ve got two more hard, tough, conference games to play.”
On new guys . . .
“It’s very realistic three of those guys could play a lot. We’d like to redshirt Houston Kessler. That was the plan when we recruited them. The other three could compete for starting positions. We have great competition for playing time, which is something we haven’t had since we’ve been here. . . .
“The year I spent at Kansas, Coach [Roy] Williams told me Dean Smith used to tell him freshmen can only learn one position. So we’ve kind of stuck with that philosophy. So Charles will play the point, his natural position; Kenny Gaines will learn the 2-guard spot; and then Brandon Morris will play the small-forward spot.”
On whether tight end Jay Rome will re-join team in January . . .
“I saw him last night and he told me, ‘Coach, I shot some jumpers the other day.’ And I said, ‘You won’t shoot any for our team; you’re going to rebound.’ We were just joking because he is a pretty good shooter. But I think Jay would like to play again. He has to stay healthy and be doing well in the classroom. But the plan is for him to continue to play.”