SEC Transition Basketball: Georgia BulldogsPosted by Brian Joyce on July 17th, 2012
It’s hot out there, and to many of us, college basketball is the last thing on our minds. But here at the SEC Microsite, we’re going to be rolling out mid-summer resets of each of the (now) 14 basketball programs in our league. We’re calling it Transition Basketball, and you can expect we’ll cover three or four teams a week until we’re done. By that time, we’ll actually start to be turning the slight corner into the fall, and from there it’s a smooth slope down to Midnight Madness in mid-October. Today’s update: Georgia.
State of the Program
The Georgia Bulldogs earned an at large NCAA bid in 2011, making a repeat performance very difficult for Mark Fox and company last season. The Bulldogs welcomed in prize recruit Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a McDonalds All-American guard (Georgia’s first Burger Boy since 1992) with NBA potential, but too often they struggled to put points on the board. Georgia showed potential with victories against Notre Dame, Tennessee, and Florida and even a close loss against Cincinnati, but overall the defeats piled up. Fox’s squad ended up tied for 10th in the conference with a 5-11 SEC mark, a long fall from an NCAA Tournament appearance just the year before.
Caldwell-Pope comes back to Athens this season, bringing with him a hope that the Bulldogs can rise out of the depths of the SEC cellar. “If you look at our team, we have finally the athleticism and size that we want,” Fox said. “We have guys that will be able to win and graduate. You know, playing at Georgia, going to school at Georgia isn’t for everybody. … This will be the first team we’ll have [where] it should be a pretty complete roster. We should have a deep team. We won’t feel like we’re having to put a band-aid on a certain position.” Fox should be able to slide Caldwell-Pope back over to the two-guard position, a more natural fit then the small forward slot he was forced into last year. Guard Vincent Williams has presumably earned the start at point guard giving the Bulldogs the benefit of another senior leader running the show in the backcourt. However, a front line that struggled to rebound last season again enters next season as a big question mark in a pivotal year for Fox. Finding consistency down low will prove to be a big key to Georgia’s fate.
Mark Fox landed a trio of three-star recruits and a Georgia legacy for 2012. The incoming class begins with the backcourt of the future in 6’4″ Kenny Gaines and 6’5″ Charles Mann. Gaines and Mann could see significant playing time in the backcourt. “They’ve got to earn their spots. If it’s [Vincent] Williams at the point, he’s going to make it very competitive with Charles. I imagine Kentavious [Caldwell-Pope] playing a lot at the No. 2 spot, which will make that position very competitive,” Fox said. “We wanted to be bigger and more athletic at those spots, and I think Charles and Kenny will provide a future of long, athletic guards. They’re working hard, but they’re still going to be freshmen so they’ll have growing pains.” Athletic 6’7″ forward Brandon Morris and 6’8″ Houston Kessler complete the class of in-state prospects for Georgia. Kessler’s father, Chad Kessler, played for the Bulldogs from 1983 to 1987.
Despite a solid class, the lack of a superstar has many fans discussing Fox’s missed opportunities. He lost out on in-state center Tony Parker and lost Robert Carter a year ago to Georgia Tech. “We lost a guy to a team that’s had a great tradition,” Fox said of Parker who committed to UCLA. “But outside of maybe my first year – Jeremy Lamb’s a guy we started so late on – but we’re going to recruit the best players. And so is everybody else.” Fox reminds fans that he has done fairly well recruiting in the past. “That’s something I think we’ve had a pretty good history with, is finding the right guys,” Fox said. “And hopefully these guys will develop as we wanted to.”
While Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will rack up the most minutes and by far the most points, 6’8″ forward Nemanja Djurisic could make the most progress. Djurisic averaged 7.0 points and 4.2 rebounds per game as a freshman last season. He played in 32 games, and ended up starting in 12 of those when the Bulldogs’ front line were saddled with injuries. And Djurisic made the most of his opportunities, going for 17 points and nine rebounds in his first start. Armed with a sweet shot from outside (37% 3FG), Djurisic made progress offensively late in the season. He collected his first career double-double in the SEC Tournament with an 11-point, 11-rebound performance against Mississippi State. But it is his strong rebounding numbers that will keep him on the floor this season. KenPom statistics indicate he had an offensive rebounding percentage of 9.1% and a 16.5% defensive rebounding percentage, both strong numbers for an area of weakness for the Bulldogs.
Djurisic had an opportunity to play for the Montenegro National Team this summer, but declined the opportunity to play for his home country in order to stay with the Bulldogs. “He had an opportunity to, but just felt like the time commitment was just too great,” Fox said. “He was going to have to be gone for nearly two months and he just didn’t feel like that was the wisest thing to do. So he’ll hope to play for them again later.”
Three Questions With Dawg Sports’ ChuckDawg
ChuckDawg is a 1995 graduate of the University of Georgia, and as you guessed, a big Georgia Bulldogs fan. He is a writer for Dawg Sports, the SB Nation site for all UGA sports. He flipped back over from a football frame of mind (it is the SEC, after all!) just to give us his thoughts on college basketball in Athens. To keep up with more news and notes on Georgia, follow Dawg Sports on Twitter @dawgsports or read more from Chuckdawg at dawgsports.com. Until then, check out his thoughts on the upcoming basketball season.
Rush the Court: The Bulldogs struggled tremendously last season with putting the ball in the basket. Besides Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who can score for Mark Fox’s team? Will any of the freshmen have a major impact this season?
ChuckDawg: We hope to see improvement from Donte Williams and Marcus Thornton around the perimeter with ball-handling and shot-making, and improvement from Nemanja Djurisic as the “big” on the low post and moving bodies out of the way. KCP is our go to point maker, but he needs someone to help him as another possible threat and a little help in offensive rebounding (a hugely bad area) to free him up for more shot making, lane-driving and decision-making. We have four new freshmen coming in this year with no standout stars, but with the potential to work the low post and inside as big guys. The key will be to providing other threats than just KCP and a lot, lot better board crashing.
RTC: Speaking of Caldwell-Pope, he had a solid freshman year but will be relied upon even more this year. What does he need to do to take his game to the next level?
CD: Whether he likes it or not, KCP will have to become the leader on this team. As star basketball players don’t hang around long as upperclassmen, his time at UGA is already looking shorter and shorter. He will need to not just be a great shooter and lane-driver, but a guy that can make good decisions, feed assists and force more forms of attack than simply his ball skills. He’s a little bigger now as well. So it’s his maturity on the court that will need to grow, and very likely can. The difficulty is going to be if anyone else steps up to meet him.
RTC: The Bulldogs pack up and head to Italy this offseason. Can you talk about what this can mean for the Bulldogs? How important is this time to the development of the young players on the roster this year?
CD: One of the dawgsports.com complaints last season was the fact UGA turned down all post season tournies. It’s likely Mark Fox had just had enough, and didn’t want the same follies to continue and ingrain even more bad habits. But now, with the transition to a younger team, they simply can’t get enough playing time. Preseason work is huge, and any preseason tournaments are also huge. Coach Mark Fox knows what he has (or rather what he doesn’t) and he can coach them up live in-game and then follow it up with specific practice. Italy will provide a whole lot less distraction (of the negative kind) with a whole lot more game time, all of which looks really good to help build a young team.
Twitter Style 2012-13 Outlook
It’s Caldwell-Pope’s time to shine in Athens, but with a lone bright spot, Georgia’s outlook looks dim.
Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.