Georgia seniors set for home finale

semerson@macon.comMarch 3, 2012 

ATHENS -- On a pure level of wins and losses, Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware are leaving the Georgia men’s basketball program how they found it. And that’s to say a bit down.

But there was an up period, last season, and the seniors have a very good chance to at least end their home careers the right way.

Georgia enters its regular-season finale Saturday afternoon with no chance of making it to the postseason, barring a miracle run in next week’s SEC tournament. The most drama is whether it can take the No. 10 seed in that tournament away from Auburn. The Tigers, who own the tiebreaker, have the same conference record and host LSU on Saturday.

But the team that has clinched last place, South Carolina, is the one visiting Georgia. So Robinson, Ware and their fellow seniors hope to celebrate.

“I’ve had so many great moments here,” Ware said. “One of the biggest things is obviously getting to the (NCAA) tournament. That image and that experience is just something I’ll never forget. But as far as leaving and coming in, I’ve left as a completely different person. I’ve grown on and off the floor. I’ve really matured in a lot of different ways. I think one of the best compliments I’ve gotten is that my mom told me she’s really proud of the man I’m becoming.”

Ware was a part of former head coach Dennis Felton’s final recruiting class at Georgia, along with Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie. The latter two propelled Georgia to the NCAA tournament last year, then left for the NBA. Leslie was demoted to the NBA’s developmental league Friday.

As a result of the pair’s departure, the Bulldogs (13-16 overall, 4-11 SEC) have struggled this year. They’re coming off a 30-point loss Thursday at No. 1 Kentucky, a rout that was broadcast nationally on ESPN.

Robinson and Ware also have had uneven seasons -- each was benched for a stretch -- but they’re both finishing strong. Robinson in particular, as he’s averaging 14.9 points per game.

Robinson’s path to Georgia was different than Ware or the other two seniors, Connor Nolte and Matt Bucklin. Robinson spent his first two years at Tennessee State, where he was a star, then decided to test himself and transfer up to Georgia and the SEC.

“Last year he was the difference in the team,” head coach Mark Fox said. “He brought an element that the team didn’t have before. And that helped us get in the NCAA tournament. He wasn’t the only reason we got to the tournament, but he certainly made a huge difference in that group. This year I think he’s had a very good conference season. I think it just proves what he thought, that he could play at a higher level.”

“I was offered by (a lot of) schools out of high school. So I’m not surprised by any means,” Robinson said. “I expected to be able to come in here and be competitive at this level of basketball, night in and night out.”

Ware made a name for himself as a 3-point specialist, and he has slid back into that role late in the season after initially struggling to score more.

“Dustin’s been the great model of stability,” Fox said, describing him as consistently one of the team’s hardest workers, as well as a good student and good citizen. “For us, as we came into start changing the culture and start building a program, he’s been a great example of how to do that.”

Ware told Fox the other night that he felt like he had cost the team a couple of games. But Fox said he replied that he was taking too much of a burden because his effort has never been in question.

“When Travis and Trey left, they knew the challenges that they would have and we would face, and I think Dustin, he has great pride in our team and he’s invested a lot in that,” Fox said. “As they all have. They’ve given us a pretty darn good effort.”

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