Georgia Bulldogs head coach Mark Fox talks to guard Kenny Gaines Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Georgia Basketball: Bulldogs Host UNC-P Braves

The Georgia Men’s basketball team hosts its only exhibition contest of the 2013-14 season Monday when the Bulldogs entertain UNC-Pembroke at Stegeman Coliseum. Tipoff is at 7:00 p.m. and admission is free.

Charles Mann (4) Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Charles Mann (4) Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves, a Division II school and member of the Peach Belt Conference, spent last week traveling through Tobacco Road for a pair of exhibition games. They dropped a 96-85 decision

Oct. 30 at N.C. State before losing at North Carolina 82-63 two nights later.

Georgia started pre-season practice on Friday, Sept. 27. Since then the Bulldogs have staged a series of intrasquad workouts, as well as a closed scrimmage recently against Mercer. After Monday’s exhibition game, Georgia will tip off the season in earnest this Friday night with a home contest against Wofford. Tipoff is at 7:30 p.m.

This time a year ago, Georgia basketball coach Mark Fox looked at his roster for the 2013 season with eager anticipation. “This team could be together for a couple of years,” he said.

Alas, his vision did not materialize. The Bulldogs’ star guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope played his sophomore season so well that the NBA came calling. And he answered.

The 2014 Bulldogs appear better equipped to withstand a significant loss to the NBA than they did the last time the Georgia sent players to the NBA. “This year we have a little more depth around us and we return more guys,” Fox said. “We have more people whose natural progression would be to take on more minutes. That’s a luxury we didn’t have before.”

A number players return to face high expectations. The upperclassmen on this 2014 Georgia roster are all capable of emerging as stars in any given game. Donte’ Williams, Georgia’s lone senior, is its top returning rebounder and a proven scorer as well. Nemi Djurisic has led the Bulldogs in scoring several times in his two seasons. And Marcus Thornton is another versatile and valuable player, provided his health allows him to return to top form. Add to this group a talented trio of sophomores, and the outlook for success in 2014 appears promising.

Here’s a best-guess picture of the Bulldogs’ personnel as they start the season:

Williams (6-9, Sr.) and Brandon Morris (6-7, So.) are the Bulldogs’ two returning starters from last season. Each has displayed moments in his career that hint of a prominent role. Morris in particular has drawn praise for the quality of his off-season workouts.

Djurisic (6-8, Jr.) is another valuable piece in Georgia’s collection of inside players. He ranked second behind KCP in scoring last season, despite starting only 10 games.

Thornton could be an important part of this equation in 2014. Knee problems have caused him to miss parts of the past two seasons and forced a redshirt year in 2013. At the time of his 2013 injury and surgery, Thornton was Georgia’s top rebounder.

Juniors John Cannon (6-10) and Tim Dixon (6-10) should also see meaningful minutes in the frontcourt after showing improvement as sophomores.
With Caldwell-Pope coming back, the Bulldogs would have boasted one of college basketball’s most promising backcourts. But with the return of Charles Mann (6-4) and Kenny Gaines (6-3) they should still be effective on the perimeter.

Though Mann started eight games as a freshman last season, he found greater prosperity as a reserve. Playing starter’s minutes coming off the bench and was named to the SEC All-Freshman team by the league’s coaches. Gaines proved capable of key contributions, including double-figure scoring in three conference games.

Houston Kessler (6-8, RFr.) originally signed with the Bulldogs in the spring of 2012. His redshirt season, however, enabled him to grow another inch and to sharpen a potent outside shooting stroke. He is included among the perimeter players because of his likely station at a swing position.

Native Oklahoman Juwan Parker (6-4, Fr.) signed with Georgia knowing that Caldwell-Pope stood a fair chance of returning for his junior year. Now that KCP is gone, though, he’ll get an ample opportunity to earn his place in the rotation.

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