Georgia looks ahead, warily awaiting one big decision

semerson@macon.comMarch 15, 2013 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Mark Fox leaned against a wall Thursday, soon after his team’s season had reached an end. Immediately, the subject switched to next season, and the head coach of the Georgia men’s basketball team stated the obvious.

The planning for next year awaits the decision of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

“It is a reality of today’s game. And no player that leaves early ever admits that they made the wrong decision,” Fox said, with a hint of a smile. “But Kentavious is a great kid. Certainly what he decides to do has a major impact on our team. But we will serve our player’s best interests first.”

Caldwell-Pope must make his decision by April 16, the NCAA’s deadline. If he returns, the Bulldogs could be NCAA tournament contenders. If he doesn’t, well, Fox doesn’t want to entertain the notion yet.

“I’m not gonna address our team without him until he makes that decision,” Fox said. “I’m not gonna do that.”

But Fox is adamant in one belief -- that his team, which finished this season 15-17, will be better prepared for the departure of its star than it was two years ago when its best two players (Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie) entered the draft.

“We finally have a lot of returning pieces,” Fox said. “All respect to J.J. (Frazier) and Juwan (Parker), we’re not gonna have to start a freshman next year. We’re not gonna have to do that. We have a more experienced roster, finally, next year. And that should work to our advantage.

“These guys who have had so much experience early, they need really good offseasons. But I have a lot of faith in Brandon (Morris) and Charles (Mann) and Kenny Gaines) and Nemi (Djurisic) and Donte’ (Williams) and all the guys that will be back.”

That’s what Georgia can take from its second-half resurgence this year. Caldwell-Pope’s supporting cast members, especially the underclassmen, showed they could be good players in the SEC. Point guard Mann made the SEC all-freshman team, Kenny Gaines had some standout moments, and forwards Morris and Djurisic showed they could be good pieces on the team.

The problem is the team still lacks dependable big men. Williams had an erratic junior season. Sophomores Tim Dixon and John Cannon did not play often, and when they did they showed, they have a long way to go.

The team’s only two current signees, Frazier and Parker, are guards. The team still has a scholarship to give, but quality big men aren’t usually available this late in the recruiting process.

But confidence remained in the Georgia locker room Thursday.

“We’ve got a young team,” Caldwell-Pope said. “They committed; they’ll be a great team. We’ll all be a great team. We’ve just gotta be committed and fight for each other.”

Mann pointed to all the team’s close losses -- three in overtime, last-second losses in regulation to Arkansas, Alabama and Vanderbilt. Flip a few of those six losses, and the team’s record looks a lot different.

Mann was asked what the team could do if Caldwell-Pope, his roommate, returned.

“We have a young team. We’ve got a great future. We can make a run in the tournament,” Mann said.

Conversely, Morris was also asked what the team would do if its star left.

“The whole KCP situation, whether he leaves or comes back, if he does decide to leave then a lot of our younger players, like me and Charles, Kenny and some of our younger guys, are gonna have to step up and get the points that we need, and just lock down defensively,” Morris said.

But Morris argued against the idea his team will be a bunch of role players without its star.

“I wouldn’t say that,” he said. “You get a lot of criticism and a lot of comments from everybody. It’s up to you whether you listen to them or whether you take it in and go with it.”

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