CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Travis Leslie was sitting on a stool in Georgias cramped locker room early Saturday morning, fielding questions about his future. Seeking a bailout, the Georgia junior guard broke an uneasy grin and looked to the teammate seated to his left.
The spotlights on you, dont look at me, senior Chris Barnes said with a smile.
That spotlight will be on Leslie and Trey Thompkins for a while or at least until they make intentions official. It should have a defining effect on the next step for the Georgia mens basketball program.
The Bulldogs took a positive move forward this past season, which ended in their first game in the NCAA tournament with a 68-65 loss to Washington. But the fact that the Bulldogs even earned their way there was a testament to their progress; it was the teams first at-large berth in the NCAA tournament in nine years.
And the 21 wins were the programs most since the 1996-97 season, when Tubby Smith was the Bulldogs head coach.
The potential is there for the Bulldogs to even be better next year, but that would depend on Thompkins and Leslie coming back. And that might be a longshot.
Thompkins, a 6-foot-9 junior forward, is projected as a mid-first-round pick by the website Draftexpress.com. Leslie is projected as a late first-round pick by NBAdraft.net.
Both players contemplated the jump last year but returned. This year both are likely to at least test the waters -- entering the draft without signing with an agent -- since both have that option after not doing so last year.
Leslie and Thompkins were noncommittal on their intentions after the loss to Washington. Head coach Mark Fox said he just hoped that each listened to the right people before making their decisions.
Those decisions will have a great impact on our team, Fox said. They both could come back, and we would have a great team. They both could leave, and we would have a young team. One might stay, one might go. I dont know.
Whether or not the stars return, the Bulldogs figure to play a lot different than this year.
Georgia employed a more deliberate, halfcourt style the past two seasons. But with the teams strength becoming its perimeter players, a more up-tempo approach awaits.
Jeremy Price is 275 pounds, Fox said of the teams starting center, a senior. Hes a good basketball player. So theres a way that we had to play with Jeremy on the floor. And I anticipate that youll see our style evolve as we get a little more mobile. But this years team had to play a certain way.
Georgia may not have any option other than to field a smaller, quicker team, particularly if Thompkins leaves. Price and Barnes, the teams other key post players, are both seniors.
The top incoming recruit is Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a 6-7 wing player who is a consensus top-20 recruit nationally. He could step into Leslies spot or team with Leslie for a potent wing combination.
The rest of the starting backcourt returns. Gerald Robinson was the teams third-leading scorer but often had turnover issues. Dustin Ware, freed up being the primary point guard, emerged as a potent 3-point threat. Both will be seniors.
In the post, Marcus Thornton will need to take a larger role than he did as a freshman. The Buldlogs signed another pair of post players: 7-0 John Florveus, a junior college prospect, and 6-10 Tim Dixon, a high school prospect who played his first three seasons at Kendrick.
But for the moment all eyes will be on Thompkins and Leslie. College underclassmen have until April 24 to declare for the NBA draft and then May 7 to withdraw, as long as they havent signed with an agent.
The prospect of an NBA lockout also looms, but its not clear yet whether that would affect anybodys decisions.
If they do come back, Ill be happy. If they dont, I wish them the best of luck in their future endeavors and we have to move on, Robinson said. Well still have a great basketball team coming back. We have a good core of guys coming back, so Ill feel confident either way.