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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Backcourt Depth Key to Dawgs' Revival

It was February -- midway through was proved to be a redemptive, yet unfulfilled season for Georgia's men's basketball team -- and Mark Fox decided to hold an impromptu pick-up game between the starters and reserves.

The game lasted just five minutes. The backups won by 10.

When it was over, one of Fox's student managers quipped, "Coach, I think we're playing the wrong guys."

"That may be true," Fox said, "But Gerald Robinson isn't eligible to play."

That's the type of impact Fox is expecting this coming season from Robinson, the transfer from Tennessee State who spent last season wowing teammates and coaches in practice but unable to see a minute of playing time in the games due to NCAA regulations regarding transfers.

In fact, when ESPN's Andy Katz listed Georgia -- a team that finished last in the SEC East in 2009-10 -- as No. 25 in his preseason top-25 ballot a few weeks ago, Robinson was one of his primary reasons.

"Gerald has a lot of respect from certain people," Fox said. "He's played well at the college level, and I think he turned down a lot of schools of this caliber out of high school, so I think people who are close to the game expect him to be an impact-type player. And I think he will make an impact on our team, and that's what we brought him here to do is really help us."

The help couldn't come at a better time or at a better position.

Fox estimates Georgia could easily have won five, six, maybe seven more games last season had Robinson -- a 6-foot-1, 165-pound junior, who averaged nearly 18 points and four assists per game as a sophomore at TSU -- been able to play last season.

More than anything, it was an issue of depth.

During exit meetings with players, point guard Dustin Ware confessed to his coach what had been obvious all season: He was exhausted.

"Dustin told me in our exit meetings, 'Coach, I wore down at the end of games,'" Fox said. "But he had to shoulder a ton of responsibility, and every team we played knew it, so they just came at him and at him and at him for 40 minutes. I have to give him credit for hanging in there like he did, but he was the first one to tell me, 'I'm going to invest the summer in my endurance.' But we have to help him out some, and I think Gerald will be a part of it."

Fox said he expects Robinson to play a hybrid role this season -- working at the 2 alongside Ware often, but playing his fair share at the point as well, with junior Travis Leslie getting an increased workload at the 2-guard spot, as well. Add in JuCo transfer Sherrard Brantley as another perimeter shooter along with the continued development of sophomores Vince Williams and Ebuka Anyaorah, and Georgia's backcourt could become a strength in 2010-11.

Brantley is a strong shooter, hitting 106 3-pointers Northwest Florida CC last season, while Williams showed some promise down the stretch running the point. Between Brantley, Leslie, Ware and Robinson, Fox expects experience to be a benefit as well.

All of that is huge in planning his scheme this season, Fox said. Last year was all about covering up weaknesses. This year has the potential to be much more.

"I played more zone last year than I played my first five years as a head coach," Fox said. "I don't want to sit in a zone the whole game, but when you're playing four guys 30-plus minutes per game, that's a way to keep them on the floor and keep them out of foul trouble. So we needed to continue to add depth and add perimeter guys because last year, that was a huge weakness for us."

Even with the lack of depth and hefty responsibility, Ware still finished third in the SEC last season in assist-to-turnover ratio, which speaks volumes about the junior's determination. But Fox said the key for this season is finding multiple players to rely upon, giving Ware a chance to be at his best for every minute he's on the court.

That's still a bit of a work in progress, but with Robinson's availability and the continued maturation of the rest of Georgia's backcourt, the prospects for 2010-11 are much brighter than the bleak situation Fox inherited last season.

"We're a lot closer if we'll continue to mature," Fox said. "We'll have the same number of guys on the team that we had last year, but it's the quality of the depth that's the issue. We need some guys to mature and continue to develop. Ebuka made some strides late in the year and we need him to have a really good summer. Brantley is a kid who understands winning. I think he'll help us. But we'll be a lot deeper team, and we'll be able to play more like we want to play and not be so worried about foul trouble and fatigue like we were last year."

5 comments:

MikeInValdosta said...

Nice!

Anonymous said...

Finally some basketball news. All this football news is kind of like beating a dead horse right now.

Anonymous said...

Great stuff. Look forward to more hoops news soon (Marcus Thornton perhaps) and going forward as Fox get his program to a level we all know is possible in Athens.

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

David,

I know UGA is a football school but please continue covering the basketball team. There are a lot of people already looking forward to the 2010-11 season.

Let's hope Thornton rounds out this recruiting class. Either way, I can't wait for this upcoming season. I can't believe I've been following basketball more than football at this time of the year but it's a good time to be a UGA Hoop Dawg.

Trick or Treat Let The Big Dawg Eat!

Anonymous said...

David, I think you need to run a poll asking whether Fox will be on the hot seat if the Dawgs again have a losing season. It's always funny watching some of these fans get their panties in a wad when you simply ask a question for overall perception.