Georgia Basketball will open its second season under coach Mark Fox tonight at Stegeman Coliseum against the Mississippi Valley State Delta Devils. Georgia will open the season without its returning leading scorer and preseason SEC Player of the Year Trey Thompkins who is out with an ankle injury. Georgia prepares to kick off this season with a list of renewed expectations as they look to build on last year's team that finished 14-17.
The pieces appear to be in place with Georgia returning its top two scorers from last season in Thompkins and Travis Leslie. Fox should have more depth at his disposal with newcomers Gerald Robinson Jr., Connor Nolte and Marcus Thornton being added to the fold. All of that in addition to a steady point guard in Dustin Ware to pilot the ship has Bulldog nation feeling pretty good about itself and its chances this season. Florida coach Billy Donavon perhaps casted the most praise on the team at SEC media days when he said:
"The one team that I think clearly may be better than everyone ... is Georgia. Any time you’ve got two players on the first-team [preseason] All-SEC and you probably have in my opinion the best player in the league in Trey Thompkins."
However, Thompkins won't be available tonight as he is still recovering from a high ankle sprain that he injured in a team scrimmage at the end of October. Without Thompkins, Fox will have to rely on that new found depth that will be key if this season is to be a success. Thompkins minutes are expected to be divided up between senior forwards Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes while freshmen Marcus Thornton and Donte' Williams will also receive time.
"We’ve had to reinvent our team in some ways," Georgia coach Mark Fox said. "It’s kind of like a football team going from being a passing team to learning how to run the ball. That change doesn’t happen overnight. We’ve got some guys we can put in there, but they’re young and green and we’ve lost our leading scorer, so we’re going to have to patch this thing together."
Mississippi Valley State comes into this game with Georgia after a 9-23 campaign last season under coach Sean Woods. This season will be Woods' third at the school and he is hoping that with a solid recruiting class and some serviceable returners that this is the year that they become a factor in the SWAC. Woods is banking that his newcomers Jerome Harris, Terrance Joyner, and Rodricko Ware can solidify the backcourt while senior Shannon Behling and junior Amos Sturdivant solidify the frontcourt. This is a team that averaged just 64 points per game last season and should see a boost to that number with the addition of Ware to the team.
While many prognosticators are projecting the Delta Devils to finish in the middle of the SWAC, coach Woods appears to have them on the right track. His recruiting class this year was ranked in the top 100 which is an uncommon feat for a SWAC conference team.
For a Georgia team with heightened expectations, Mississippi Valley State is just the first challenge in a long list of challenges. Even without Thompkins, Georgia should still have enough firepower to hold off the Delta Devils particularly at home where they proved to be a tough out last season. Fox and the Bulldogs hope to get Thompkins back sooner rather than later as the schedule becomes much tougher in the coming days. The Bulldogs will host Colorado next week, then fly to Saint Louis to take on the Billikens, before traveling to Orlando for a matchup with Notre Dame in the Old Spice Classic tournament.
The challenge for Fox's team this season will be turning those expectations into results on the court. Junior point guard Dustin Ware says that the players hold the key, it is just up to them to unlock the door.
"We will allow ourselves to be as good as we can be," Ware said. "We certainly have a lot of pieces this year, but it all depends on the hard work we put in. And you know you get out of it what you put in."