NEW ORLEANS -- Georgia players will wake up in their hotel room Thursday for perhaps their most important game of the season. And then they will wait ... and wait ... and wait some more.
The SEC tournament first-round game between Georgia and Mississippi State is not scheduled to tip off until 10 p.m. and could start even later than that. Because teams don’t like to mess with their game-day routine, the time isn’t filled with a trip to the mall or extra-long study halls.
It’s just a lot of waiting around, staring at walls and killing time.
“It’s a lot of hotel room,” senior guard Dustin Ware said. “It’s a lot of film watching. Really I think for us it’s just a lot of personal thought, a lot of time to just think. And to get your mind ready for the game.”
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The late start is a necessity of the tournament, with four games on site, the first one tipping off at 1 p.m. Georgia was in the same situation last year in the NCAA tournament, when its game against Washington was the final one of a four-game slate in Charlotte.
The Bulldogs lost that game, but they’re 2-0 in games this year that started after 10 p.m. They beat Notre Dame in the CBE Classic in November and a month later won at Southern California in Los Angeles.
“You try and have a routine,” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said. “This is funny, (football head coach Mark) Richt and I talked about this in regards to college football and the routine that you have before a game, and the day before a game how so many things are set in stone. But our game times are so all over the map, we have these late starts, we have Sunday afternoon games, we just have had some very untraditional times.”
On Thursday, there will be an easier way to kill time -- watching other tournament games on television. It could be the SEC, where Arkansas at LSU get things started at 1 p.m. or the ACC, Big East or somewhere else.
But the day still consists of a lot of hurry up and wait.
“You try to do little things, get on your feet, don’t stay down all day, try to stay active,” sophomore forward Marcus Thornton said. “I guess just try to stay alive throughout the whole day. You’ve gotta do what you do all day. I know it’s a late tip for anybody, but just kind of keep yourself occupied.”
Fox said he always tries to get his team out of the hotel at least once a day. That could be for a shootaround or just a simple walk around the block.
Mississippi State head coach Rick Stansbury sounded a bit more helpless to keep the team busy.
“What can you do? It’s not a whole lot you’re going to do,” Stansbury said. “They’re going to stay in the hotel a couple hours longer. They’re going to sleep a couple hours longer and watch TV a couple hours longer and they’re going to be on those little phones a couple of hours longer. That’s what they do.”
Or put another way, it’s the same routine as a 7 p.m. start time, just extended.
“Just try to keep it as normal as you can keep it for two extra hours,” Stansbury said.
So does the later start time actually have any effect on how the game is played?
“I don’t think so,” Ware said. “It might for some guys. But it’s still basketball. I guess it may have a minor effect, because you might be bored all day.”
Fox found another way to pass the time Wednesday. Upon the team’s arrival in New Orleans, he had the bus take a tour through the Ninth Ward, which was heavily damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“It’s amazing how time goes by you think because time’s passed that everything’s fixed,” Fox said. “That’s not the case.”
Fox had seen it before, doing the same thing with his Nevada team in 2007 when it was in the city for the NCAA tournament. But the players, who were mostly in middle school during Katrina, said they had never been to the city, much less seen the damage in person.
“It’s one thing to see it on TV or hear about it from somebody else,” Thornton said. “But to actually see some of the damage yourself and see some of the places -- there used to be a lot of homes that just aren’t there anymore. It kind of makes you stop for a second and be thankful for everything that’s fortunate in your life. I think it was a good experience for us all to see that.”