ATHENS -- The past week has been a big one for Jay Rome’s future in the sport he went to Georgia to play on scholarship.
Here’s the thing, however: Rome has to compartmentalize, because he’s playing another sport at the moment.
Rome was a highly touted recruit to the Georgia football team. He announced his commitment around this time last year.
But with All-SEC tight end Orson Charles ahead of him, Rome sat out the football season and instead has been playing basketball. So it was while working out with his basketball teammates that Rome found out last week that Charles was going pro -- thus throwing Rome into the spotlight for the 2012 Georgia football team.
“It was something I kind of anticipated, but I really wasn’t sure if he was or not,” Rome said. “When I heard it, I was happy for him. … I just kind of told myself, ‘OK, I know that I’m in basketball right now, but by the time basketball season is over with, there’s no time for rest.’ I’m just going to jump right back into it, and I’m going to fill that spot the best that I can.”
Rome isn’t actually doing too much with the hoops team, at least in game action. He has appeared in three games, for a total of five minutes. He has one rebound and is awaiting his first field goal attempt.
The Georgia coaching staff is still trying to figure out how exactly to use the 6-foot-7 Rome. Since he was a football star who joined the basketball team basically on a lark, head coach Mark Fox only saw Rome play once in high school.
“He just sees schemes so much better than a lot of guys,” Fox said. “Maybe that’s his football background. He’s just very bright.”
But Fox also knows Rome’s place is on the football team with Mark Richt.
“He’s a star of the gridiron,” Fox said. “He’s promised me he’ll dunk the ball over the goalpost if he scores a touchdown. I said, ‘That’s great, but you’ll get a penalty and then Coach Richt will be beating my door down.’ ”
While Rome may not be playing much, he thinks the experience this basketball season will help him for football. He said he could feel himself becoming more athletic and improving himself in ways that will transfer to football.
“I know I’m quicker than I was,” said Rome, who has dropped about 10 pounds from his football playing weight of 262. “I’m a lot more explosive. I’m dunking the ball with no problem. I know it’s going to transfer over to the football field just being faster, quicker out of my breaks, quicker out of my cuts, footwork off of blocks. If the ball’s a little high, and I have to go up and get it, I believe I’ll go up and get it over anybody.”
Charles, who was Georgia’s regular-season leader in receptions, announced last week that he was leaving early for the NFL draft. The Bulldogs also lose second-stringer Aron White, who was a senior.
A starting spot isn’t guaranteed for Rome. He still has to beat out Arthur Lynch, who got snaps this year as a sophomore. But both are expected to play.
So that likely would make it hard for Rome to play basketball again in 2013 and beyond. But he’s not ruling it out yet.
“As of now I plan on doing it as much as I can,” he said. “I know that with Orson leaving that next year I’m going to focus a lot more on football. I mean, throughout the years I’m here football is going to be my primary sport. I’m going to do whatever I have to do for football first and then whatever I have left I’m then going to come to basketball. As of right now I think I’m going to try to do it every year.”
Rome actually wasn’t the only football player who was supposed to join the team this season. Freshman cornerback Nick Marshall was one of the state’s top hoops recruits. But he didn’t redshirt, and it appears any chance he would play basketball this season has passed.
“In the future, though, I wouldn’t rule that out,” Fox said.
Thornton getting healthy
Sophomore forward Marcus Thornton, who had his knee scoped last month, is moving closer to returning to the court. Fox said it was conceivable that Thornton could play Wednesday night against Tennessee, but that seems unlikely.
“I think we’re close,” Fox said. “Even if we got him back soon, I think it would be something that we would be pretty guard of how much we put him on the practice floor or the game floor just to make sure we get him 100 percent healthy.”