ATHENS -- Nemanja Djurisic grew up in Montenegro, a small republic tucked in Eastern Europe. And he still knew about Kentucky basketball.
“The tradition,” he said. “Everyone knows about them.”
Djurisic is now a freshman forward at Georgia, which on Tuesday night takes on Kentucky with the matchup heightened: The Wildcats are now the No. 1 team in the country, having ascended to the top in both the AP and coaches polls Monday.
This will be the first time a No. 1-ranked team has visited Georgia for a men’s basketball game since 2007, when it was Florida.
“How many people get this chance in life?” Georgia head coach Mark Fox said. “I never got it as a player. You don’t get it real often as a coach. It’s just great opportunity. And they’ve got a terrific team.”
Djurisic said his family will be watching the game back home in Eastern Europe.
“It’s gonna be a big game for us, it’s gonna be a big game for me,” Djurisic said. “It means a lot to me, it means a lot to my family probably, because they’re gonna be watching over there, on the channels directly. Live. It’s a great opportunity that as I said doesn’t come often in our career. We just need to take advantage of it.”
Kentucky (19-1) has been ranked No. 1 twice this season and four times since head coach John Calipari was hired three years ago. The Wildcats only reached No. 1 once from 1995 until Calipari’s arrival.
Calipari has built his team through immediate impact recruits, and this year is no different. LSU head coach Trent Johnson, whose team gets its shot at the Wildcats on Saturday, said, “I don’t know if it’s Kentucky or the Miami Heat we have to play on Saturday.”
Georgia can counter with the SEC’s leading freshman scorer, guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. The Greenville native was recruited by Kentucky, and Calipari on Monday said Caldwell-Pope was one of the best players in the conference.
“He’s a game-changer,” Calipari said.
Georgia sophomore forward Marcus Thornton said he also was recruited by Kentucky, two years ago after he was released from his Clemson letter-of-intent. Otherwise, the disparity in talent will be wide between the teams.
Fox marveled at the combination of length and athleticism that Kentucky has on hand. He noted that Kentucky’s shooting guard, Darius Miller, is “bigger than my power forward.”
The star is Anthony Davis, the 6-foot-11 post star who is averaging 4.7 blocks per game, almost two more blocks per game better than anyone else in the SEC. Davis is already being mentioned as a potential No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft.
“We’re gonna try to get him out of the game probably. And not let him develop his game throughout the 40 minutes,” Djurisic said. “He’s a freshman like we are, and he’s gonna make some mistakes. I don’t think it’s something we can’t handle. I know he’s very long. But their whole team is.”
Georgia, on the other hand, is struggling in the post all season. The Bulldogs are off to a 1-4 start in SEC play.
“Our team’s had good minutes. We’re just not mature enough yet to string them together,” Fox said.
But Fox still sees signs of improvement. There was last week’s win over Tennessee, which the Volunteers followed up by beating defending national champion Connecticut. And there was the comeback from 15 down to Mississippi, although the first 37 minutes negated it.
“We’ve having a tough start to SEC play, but by any stretch of the means I don’t think we’re an awful basketball team,” Fox said. “We haven’t played well, but I think if we can just become a little more consistent and more mature when the clock’s ticking, then we can continue to get better.”
But how can that happen playing against perhaps the best team in the country?
“You’ve just gotta look at it with the most confidence possible, and say no matter what’s the ranking, or what’s across the chest, you have a chance to win this game,” Thornton said.