Rivalry heads to the hardwood

semerson@macon.comDecember 7, 2011 

ATHENS -- Do rivalry games affect recruiting? Donte’ Williams remembers watching the Georgia and Georgia Tech men’s basketball teams face each other a couple of years ago when he was in high school.

“Georgia struggled that year, but I knew they had the good coach here, and it was a good school,” Williams said. “You look at other things, but I think the game has a little to do with it too.”

So Williams joined Georgia when it was down and was on the team last year when its program reached the NCAA tournament. Georgia Tech, on the other hand, lost at home to the Bulldogs and ultimately fired its coach.

Now Brian Gregory takes the Yellow Jackets to Stegeman Coliseum, for a game that could be viewed as a referendum on the state of each program. But it’s probably only a referendum for one night, with only a minimal impact on recruiting.

“I think it probably has some bearing,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said. “But I think kids are more geared to look at your entire body of work, really.”

Fox is in his third year at Georgia and just signed three in-state recruits. But he lost out on Robert Carter, one of the state’s highest-rated prospects who signed with the Yellow Jackets. Two other top 100-caliber players inked with Gregory’s program in November.

Fox can counter that he already has Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a McDonald’s All-American last year. So far the freshman is living up to the hype, and leads the team with 13.9 points per game.

Recruiting takes on a more important form this year for both programs, because each is in transitional mode. Both teams lost players to the pros, and Georgia Tech had the usual turnover that comes with a coaching change.

As a result, they enter Wednesday night’s game with identical records (4-4). Georgia has lost three in a row and is in the midst of a stretch of seven games that are against three Pac-12 schools, two Big East schools, and one each from the ACC and A-10.

The Bulldogs had a challenging schedule last year, too, but that was geared toward reaching the NCAA tournament. This year Fox is having to mold a younger team, lacking in frontcourt scoring and rebounding, while playing high-caliber opponents.

“You get more disappointed than you get discouraged because you have so many new faces,” Fox said. “I think what’s important for us is that we make progress in the right way, that we’re learning the right things. But it’s going to be, especially with all those games grouped together, we’re gonna have to do some growing, and have some growing pains in the public eye, and we’ve had some of that.”

Georgia Tech has lost three of the past four games, dropping games to LSU, Northwestern and Tulane. The Yellow Jackets have been led by junior swingman Glen Rice Jr. (14.8 points per game, 7.2 rebounds) and freshman center Daniel Miller (8.9 points, 7.8 rebounds).

Georgia Tech will be looking for its first win in Athens since the 1976-77 season. The game was played at the Omni in Atlanta from 1981-1994.

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