The Georgia men’s basketball team gets its season started Friday night at Stegeman Coliseum when the Bulldogs take on Young Harris in their first exhibition game of the season.
Following a 15-17 season (5-11 SEC), Georgia looks forward to taking the floor at home where they went 11-6 a year ago.
Georgia head coach Mark Fox looks to mix up the lineups Friday night to see how different players gel together, but also wants to see his players get comfortable playing in front of a crowd.
“Certainly we would like to play in front of people and relax, and really play in front of a crowd,” Fox said. “That’s really not something that we have done to this point yet.”
That is in front of a crowd that speaks English.
This summer the Bulldogs took a trip to Italy where they played in three games against international teams.
While the trip may have been good in terms of working out some kinks, Georgia did not get the real experience of playing in front of fans.
“We had a great crowd in one of our games in Italy, but none of them spoke English so there was no pressure,” Fox said.
For freshman guard Kenny Gaines, this will be the first time he has played a game at Stegeman Coliseum.
Gaines explained it as a “dream come true,” but also as a nerve racking experience.
“I’m really excited. I know a lot people say they not nervous they just ready to go out and play well,” Gaines said. “I am a little bit nervous. Just trying to make sure I remember all the plays offensively, and all the defensive tendencies we have been working on.”
Yet, for more experienced players such as junior forward Marcus Thornton, they look at Friday’s game as a chance to come together as a unit.
“You kind of look forward to putting everything together,” he said. “I think that’s the hardest part, and once you kind of work on everything and certain things individually you kind of put it together and do it as whole. That’s probably the thing we are looking forward to doing the most.”
Marcus Thornton’s health
Thornton, who has been hampered by injuries to both knees throughout his career at Georgia, is said to be 100 percent for the 2012 season.
Coming off of two knee surgeries, the former Georgia Mr. Basketball has been able to participate in all the drills in practice and is feeling healthy for the first time in a long while.
“I feel pretty good,” Thornton said. “Much better than I did at this point last year. I’m just looking forward to getting an opportunity to compete.”
While Thornton says he feels healthy, Fox wants to make sure it stays that way.
Fox has sat Thornton out of four or five practices this season, and explained that there is no use in jeopardizing his health in drills that he has already mastered.
Thursday’s practice was one of those instances.
“I have taken Marcus out, like today, today is a day where Marcus knows everything that we are doing,” Fox said. “There is no need for Marcus to have any wear and tear on his wheels today. And we have done that four or five times in the fall since we have started practice and he disagrees. He is also very bright and understands the big picture.”
In fact, Fox plans on sitting his junior forward out of practices throughout the season to assure his knees receive some rest.
“We will be cautious with him because I think we can afford to be, and there are days that he gets frustrated with it, but he is as unselfish of a guy that we have on our team right now,” Fox said. “He has been terrific about it and played very well, practiced very well.”
Caldwell-Pope’s transition to shooting guard
Sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope spent much of his freshman year out of position.
The former McDonald’s All American played much of his time at small forward for the Bulldogs last season averaging 13.2 ppg, but with the losses of guards Gerald Robinson (14.2 ppg) and Dustin Ware (8.1 ppg), Caldwell-Pope will be able to return to his high school position.
For Caldwell-Pope, the transition back to the “2” spot has not been too difficult.
“It hasn’t been that much of an adjustment,” Caldwell-Pope said. “The three and two spot are just the same just different sides of the ball.”
Yet, Fox said the transition has a bigger impact than his young star realizes.
With the addition of Caldwell-Pope to the backcourt, the Bulldogs now add more size to the guard position with Pope listed at 6’5.
However, Caldwell-Pope will have to take on some new responsibilities with his new position.
“There is more ball handling, there is a different matchup for him defensively, which allows everyone to have a different matchup as well,” Fox said. “It will have an impact. He will not play there exclusively, but he is going to play there a lot.”
Overall it has been an easy move for Caldwell-Pope, but Fox said there are still things his sophomore needs to work on.
“He has really done pretty well to this point moving over, and there are times where he reverts to reads that three man makes and that the two doesn’t,” he said. “Really to this point he has done a really good job.”