University of Georgia

Emerson: Georgia basketball recruiting on the rise

Any look at Georgia basketball’s incoming recruiting class needs to first get this out of the way: Jaylen Brown, perhaps the nation’s top prospect, still has the Bulldogs on his list, and if he shocks the world and chooses them over Kentucky, UCLA and everyone else, then the rest of what you will read is, essentially, gravy.

That’s not to diminish the players Georgia already has signed and may still sign. But Brown, a 6-foot-7 swingman from Wheeler, is what they call in the business a program-changer. He’s a higher-rated prospect than even Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was four years ago and would make Georgia an instant preseason top-25 team.

OK, so we’ve got that out of the way. Now let’s delve into Georgia’s class minus Brown, which from all accounts is still pretty solid. It doesn’t have an eye-popping five-star recruit but does include three (and possibly more) prospects who compare favorably with Mark Fox’s previous Georgia classes.

“I personally think it’s the best class Fox has signed,” said Dan McDonald, the basketball recruiting analyst for UGAsports.com, the Rivals affiliate.

The headliner of the class might be Turtle Jackson, a guard from Athens who was committed to Connecticut before flipping to his hometown team. But because of Georgia’s guard depth, the other two signees might have a better chance to play right away.

Derek Ogbeide, a 6-8, 240-pounder from Pebblebrook, will have a chance to get a lot of early minutes. Georgia loses its two starting post players, and the only obvious replacement is Yante Maten, who started two games as a freshman. Maten showed a lot of promise, especially with his shot blocking and offensive touch.

Ogbeide is still raw offensively, but offers an intriguing complement to Maten, according to those who have seen him play, including McDonald.

“If you just look at him, he’s probably a more physically impressive kid than Yante Maten,” McDonald said. “He’s not quite as skilled as Yante, but just from the perspective of being able to block shots, rebound and defense, he can step in next year.”

That would be key for Georgia next season, which returns plenty of scoring from the perimeter. So that’s not the immediate priority for the second low-post spot.

The other signee is E’torrion Wilridge, a 6-7, 200-pound forward from Beaumont, Texas. Wilridge has a similar height and game to Brandon Morris, who started at small forward for most of the previous two seasons before his dismissal last summer.

Wilridge is probably a better outside shooter than Morris, McDonald said, but not as good a ball-handler. Otherwise, there are a lot of similarities, and Wilridge is capable of sliding to power forward in a smaller lineup, just as Morris did at times.

Now, back to Jackson. At 6-4, he offers another point guard with size, just as Charles Mann has been at Georgia the past three years. Jackson has a better reputation as a shooter than Mann but isn’t quite as physical as Mann, who has excelled at driving the basket and drawing fouls.

Either way, Jackson projects to play both guard spots, although the Bulldogs are pretty deep entering next season: Mann, Kenny Gaines, J.J. Frazier, Juwan Parker and Kenny Paul Geno all started at different points this past season. Still, someone of Jackson’s skillset is likely to be used somehow and somewhere.

Meanwhile, Georgia has one scholarship left for next season -- the NCAA limit is 13 -- and the Bulldogs appear eager to fill the final spot, whether it’s with Brown or someone else. Or both.

Mike Edwards, a 6-9, 225-pound center from Westland, Michigan, is set to visit Georgia this weekend. Georgia assistant coach Jonas Hayes, who hauled in Maten this time last year from Michigan, apparently is seeking to build a pipeline.

Edwards isn’t very highly rated, but more power conference programs are showing interest. Nebraska and Kansas State also offered recently, and Michigan has expressed interest, according to McDonald.

Georgia also is keeping an eye on potential graduate transfers, according to a source close to the team. No specific players were mentioned, but the team likes the idea of bringing in a player who can immediately be a factor on a team that hopes to return to the NCAA tournament.

Obviously if Georgia takes two more prospects rather than just one, room would have to be made on its current roster. It hasn’t been Fox’s way to run players off, but a current player could always opt to leave or even voluntarily go off scholarship, as long as he can pay his own way.

Whatever happens down the stretch, McDonald said there is “no doubt” that Georgia’s recruiting under Fox is on the upswing. Hayes (promoted to full-time assistant coach two years ago) and Yasir Rosemond (hired last year) now team with longtime top assistant Philip Pearson (who recruited Caldwell-Pope and Gaines, among others).

None of this is to say that Georgia is on the verge of becoming a breakout power next year. The SEC is getting tougher, with Mississippi State hiring Ben Howland, Auburn entering its second year under Bruce Pearl and teams in general recruiting better (LSU has two of the nation’s top 20 recruits, and Texas A&M has three of the top 40, per 247Sports.com).

But Georgia, even without a certain mega-prospect, is in position to contend for a second straight NCAA bid and perhaps more.

“As it stands, now I think they have every chance to be as good as this year if not better,” McDonald said. “They’ll have more depth, more guys in the backcourt to where injuries won’t kill them. ... (And in recruiting), I think one way or another, I think they’ll find a way to finish strong.”

Contact Seth Emerson at semerson@macon.com

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