Georgia Basketball team begins pre-season practice


The Georgia Basketball team begins pre-season practice today, and with seven of last year’s nine key performers returning, including three starters, optimism makes a rare visit to the Dawg basketball program.

The three returning starters,  juniors Charles Mann (6′ 5″ 215, Alpharetta),  Kenny Gaines (6’3″  200, Atlanta) and red-shirt senior Marcus Thornton, 6′ 8″ 235, Atlanta)  played pivotal roles in Georgia’s 2013 – 2014 season. Mann scored 14 points a game last year and earned a third team All-SEC spot while Gaines shot over 45% from three-point territory and earned Honorable Mention All-SEC. Marcus Thornton rebounded from multiple knee injuries and a redshirt season to lead the Dawgs in rebounding.

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After a slow start, the Bulldogs surged after Christmas to win 20 games, claiming the SEC Tourney number two seed. The Dawgs reached the SEC Tourney semi-finals and appeared in the post-season for the first time since 2011, playing two rounds in the NIT.

The 2014 Dawgs played their best ball during the last month of the season. Whether this year’s team can build on last year’s stretch run depends on the answers to two big questions.

Who will play the small forward position?

Who will relieve Marcus Thornton and Nemi Djurisic at the post?

Who will play Small Forward?

Last week, we predicted sophomore Juwan Parker (6′ 4″ 200, Tulsa OK) the starter at small forward. Parker stepped immediately into last year’s rotation, often spelling the now departed Brandon Morris . Coach Fox can also take advantage of sophomore J. J. Frazier’s (5′ 10″ 150, Glennville, GA) point guard skills and interchange Mann and Frazier at the point and shooting guard positions. With Mann and Frazier in the backcourt, Kenny Gaines can move from guard to spell Parker at the small forward position. If Frazier plays well at the point, and after his strong performance last year that is the expectation, Georgia can keep its two best players – Mann and Gaines – on the court. Another option at small forward is junior Cameron Forte (6’7″ 220, Tempe, AZ)

Who will relieve Thornton and Djurisic?

The kool-aid spilling out of summer workouts was all about freshman Yante Maten (6′ 8″ 240,  Pontiac, MI). If Maten can live up to the expectations created for him, he will be the first post player off the bench. And really, kool-aid aside, he’s just about going to have to be the first post player off the bench anyway.

The departure of Tim Dixon and John Cannon left the Dawgs with Thornton, senior Djurisic (6′ 8″ 230, Podgorica, Montenegro) and red-shirt sophomore  Houston Kessler (6′ 8″ 225, Newnan, GA) the returning post players. The entire Bulldog Nation is pulling for Kessler – a great person and teammate as well as a Bulldog basketball legacy. (Kessler is the son of Chad Kessler, a 4-year Bulldog letterman and the nephew of the late Alec Kessler, UGA’s No. 2 career scoring leader and a 1990 lottery pick of the Houston Rockets.) While Kessler is only a redshirt sophomore, there has not yet been an indication Kessler can step up and play 15 or 20 minutes a night of winning basketball in the SEC. The only other option is freshman Osahen Iduwe (6’10” 235, Benin Ciy, Nigeria).  While the “The Big O” brings to Athens a reputation for athleticism, it is unlikely he is ready for prime time in the SEC. The fate of this year’s Georgia basketball season may very well be in the hands of Maten.

The Bulldog Nation will  have the answers soon.

The Dawgs will open the season against arch-rival Georgia Tech in Atlanta on November 14 in a must win game. (It’s Tech. Georgia has lost three straight basketball games to Tech. Name a current Georgia head coach in any sport that has lost more than three straight to Tech. It’s a must win game.) Georgia then takes on an upgraded non-conference schedule.

Georgia desperately needs to string together a second consecutive good basketball season with last year’s success. If Mark Fox can get the expected answers at the small forward and post positions, this can be a very good team.