ATHENS - It's not even October yet, but college basketball is underway. Or at least practice is about to be.
Georgia will begin practice on Friday, thanks to an offseason NCAA change which allows men's basketball teams to begin earlier than the traditional mid-October date. Women's basketball teams have been able to do so for the past couple years.
"It gives you more, obviously, time to teach," Georgia head coach Mark Fox said. "We're gonna have eight or nine practices before we play a game than we have before."
This figures to be a key year for Fox, whose team has had three losing seasons in his four as coach, though the exception saw the Bulldogs reach the NCAA tournament. This year Fox's team returns most of its rotation from last year, though the key player is gone.
The departure of SEC player of the year Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to the NBA leaves a void in the scoring role. Georgia seems likely to lean heavier now on the trio of Kenny Gaines, Charles Mann and Brandon Morris, who each had some bright moments as freshmen last year.
"The key for all of them is they're really gonna have to play like juniors as sophomores," Fox said. "That's an area where I think that last year, with Nemi and Kentavious having to play such big roles as sophomores, that maybe we can look back at that transition for these three kids a little bit easier."
Fox's team won't be the only one practicing in Athens. For three days next week (Oct. 1-3) the Atlanta Hawks will be using UGA's facility as part of their training camp. Fox said the practice times won't coincide, other than one day, and the Bulldogs will use that time to practice in Stegeman Coliseum.
Otherwise the only adjustment is that the Hawks will use Georgia's locker room for those three days.
"I think our guys are spoiled anyway, so it won't hurt them to dress somewhere else for a couple days," Fox said. "But we're excited about them coming in, I think it'll be great for us."
Fox said he's known Hawks general manager Danny Ferry for 15 years, but didn't think that was the reason the Hawks were coming.
A few other notes from Fox on Thursday afternoon:
- The team has four newcomers, and because they all enrolled over the summer, Fox says they're off to "good starts" in their conditioning. Fox also said he has a pretty good handle on where the newcomers will fit in the lineup.
- Frontcourt play has been the team's weakness for two years now. Fox said he was encouraged with the team's big men thus far, saying Donte' Williams, Nemanja Djurisic, Tim Dixon and John Cannon have all made strides. Perhaps even more importantly, forward Marcus Thornton is looking agile, a year after having to redshirt because of chronic knee problems.
"Marcus is moving around, and playing above the rim, and functioning as well as he has really probably since he's been here," Fox said.
- Another big man, freshman Houston Kessler, who redshirted last season, actually put on weight, then took it off. Fox said Kessler is also shooting the ball well in workouts, and will be in the mix for playing time.
- Fox didn't single out any of the post players yet. Obviously he'll be happy if any emerge as stars, but for now it appears the plan is to shuttle them in and out of the game, and balance the frontcourt minutes across four-to-six players.
"We'll have enough depth up front to where we can be pretty aggressive, and we can run those guys in and out as much as we need to," Fox said. "The old adage is you get more fouls than you can get use - we don't want to do that, we're trying not to foul. But I do think we have some guys that can give us some depth there and allow us to play a little faster."
Good luck donuts
Fox personally brought donuts to the football coaches on Thursday morning, something he said he's done three or four times before. In fact, Fox said the football team was unbeaten every time after he's brought the donuts.
"I didn't want to break the mojo," Fox said. "I didn't even stick around to see them eat them. I know Richt will be mad at me because he's been so healthy lately."
The football staff has returned the favor in the past. Fox said they sent his team a big fried chicken lunch one time. But it wasn't Richt who personally delivered it. Fox bailed out Richt.
"Well it's hard for them to deliver all that," Fox said.