Georgia graduate transfer Andrew Garcia (4) jumps to shoot the ball. The University of Georgia men’s basketball team beat Vanderbilt 73-70 in the final seconds of the game on Feb. 6, 2021, in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/ Kathryn Skeean, kskeean@randb.com)

COVID-19 has already made this year’s men’s basketball season weird. It’s about to make an already unusual senior day even more out of the ordinary. 

Despite the fact that Georgia’s recently scheduled SEC closer against Alabama will be held in Stegeman Coliseum on March 6, the Bulldogs are moving forward with senior day activities against South Carolina. 

The “senior” class is made up of three graduate transfers (Andrew Garcia, P.J. Horne and Justin Kier) who all three spent their first four years at other schools. They’ve played in Athens for one season – the strange, COVID-19 season with limited capacity and a number of health protocols. 

Their college basketball careers may not even be over. The NCAA has granted them the option to return next year, and none of the three have given any indication of their future with the program.

“It’s a unique senior day, not only because of the season, but because they’re going to have the option to come back if they want,” said head coach Tom Crean in a virtual press conference on Friday. “And something we’ll deal with down the road.” 

Still, the festivities will go on. Crean didn’t know Friday whether parents would be allowed on the court, but said he expected “adjustments.” 

Saturday could be an extra special day for Garcia. Georgia’s graduate transfer from Stony Brook sits eight points away from 1,000 in his career. 

Garcia said on Friday it’s an “incredible” feat for him, as his career has been impacted by injuries. He said he underwent two surgeries on his right knee out of high school and another in his freshman year with the Seawolves. 

“Going through injuries is tough,” Garcia said in a virtual press conference Friday. “That can take away somebody’s dream, so I’m just grateful that I’m even able to reach this milestone. That just makes me even more happy and hungry.” 

Recently, Garcia has been dealing with a nose injury suffered against Tennessee on Feb. 10 that also required surgery. He’s been playing with a mask that can cause vibrations when it touches rods in his nose, but he said he’s getting used to it. 

“It’s not uncomfortable, but it’s kind of just there,” Garcia said. “It’s like muscle memory. I just want to play with it as much as possible.” 

Crean said Georgia’s trio of graduate transfers has brought maturity and spirit to this year’s team. He’s enjoyed watching their improvement and appreciation for the program.

“They took nothing for granted, and it’s been a good lesson for our players,” Crean said. “That ‘don’t ever feel like you’re entitled to anything,’ because it’s all about how you work. It’s all about how you prepare. It’s about what you bring to the table, you know, the impact you can make on your teammates. I’ve loved having all three of them.”

The emotions around an odd senior day likely won’t be at the forefront of the Bulldogs’ minds come tipoff. That will be South Carolina, a 5-12 (3-10) SEC rival that smacked Georgia 83-59 in its first meeting on Jan. 27 in Columbia. 

Crean said it’s hard for him to watch that first game, and he expects the adjustments will come on the floor rather than through watching more film. 

“I’ve watched it a couple times over the last couple days, and it’s not good for my stomach,” Crean said. “I don’t know how much I’ll show the team of that. We showed them a couple of clips, but it’s really more about where they’re at right now, how they’re playing.” 

Coming off their dominant 91-78 over competitive LSU on Tuesday, the Bulldogs aren’t expecting a repeat of defeat against the Gamecocks. Like Crean said, Georgia believes it’s different now. 

“I’ll just say we’re a better team now,” Horne said in Friday’s virtual press conference. “We put some things in perspective as time went [on].”