Georgia welcomes Felton

Dennis Felton

Felton quote: "I have absolutely no problem at all turning my back on the most talented player out there if I think he doesn't have the character to put it all together. In my five years as a head coach that has served me very well.''

ATHENS, Ga. - The ongoing investigation into allegations of rules violations in Georgia's basketball program have some focusing on the potential for bad times in the immediate future.

The man introduced Thursday night as Georgia's new basketball coach chose instead to focus on the potential to make Georgia one of the elite programs in the nation.

"I just truly believe it's a place where I have a chance to build something that years from now we can all call one of the greatest programs in the country, a program that's the envy of everyone and the model of everyone,'' said Dennis Felton, the former Western Kentucky coach.

Felton agreed to a five-year deal will pay him $700,000 per year. Felton succeeds Jim Harrick, who resigned under the pressure of allegations of academic fraud, unethical conduct and improper financial benefits in the program.

The fallout from the investigation could result in NCAA sanctions that could limit Georgia's chances for success in 2004, but the 39-year-old Felton said "I'm coming into this opportunity with the long haul in mind.''

With his family in attendance at the press conference, sitting with University of Georgia president Michael Adams, Felton painted a picture of a program rich with athletic and academic success.

"That's my ambition as the head coach at Georgia,'' he said. "We want to have it all. We want to be impressive in every sense of the word.''

Felton met with Georgia's current players Thursday night after sharing the spotlight at his press conference with athletic director Vince Dooley. He plans to being meeting Georgia signees and recruits this weekend.

Felton said he planned to bring his entire staff of assistant coaches with him from Western Kentucky, though he has recommended his top assistant, Pete Herrmann, to be the Hilltoppers' next head coach. Herrmann is the former head coach at Navy.

Felton's contract at Georgia will include a $400,000 buyout clause - double the total Georgia is paying as Felton's buyout clause at Western Kentucky. As part of the buyout clause with Western Kentucky, Georgia will agree to a four-game series with the Hilltoppers, with games in Athens and Bowling Green, Ky.

Because of the scandal which cast a cloud over the Georgia program, Dooley said extra emphasis was placed in researching the background of Felton and other candidates, including former Chicago Bulls coach Tim Floyd.

"We put a great deal of emphasis on it, a great deal of emphasis on finding the right person, the right fit,'' Dooley said. "I am absolutely convinced he is the right person.''

Those who have worked closely with Felton predicted Thursday he will restore integrity to the Georgia program.

"One thing I'll tell you more than anything, he is going to do it right and he will be involved in every decision from the smallest detail, from the piping on the uniform,'' said Texas coach Rick Barnes, who had Felton as an assistant coach at Providence and Clemson.

Said Barnes: "He is very meticulous and highly organized. He leaves nothing to chance. He will watch over it. He'll be a great gatekeeper. He's  going to make sure it's done right.''

Sun Belt Conference commissioner Wright Waters described Felton Thursday as "straight as an arrow.''

"We've never had a moment's trouble; I know of no problem involving Dennis or Western Kentucky,'' Waters said.

Waters said that in Sun Belt coaches meetings, Felton was "always the champion of the student-athlete.''

"He's tough, he's a disciplinarian,'' Waters said. "He's got a set of rules and things he believes in and he's strong with them, but he's not a screamer or a yeller. He's more of a teacher, and he always makes sure we're doing things that address the concerns of the student-athlete and their welfare.''

Felton's Hilltoppers were 24-9 this season despite losing two top players - 7-foot-1 center Chris Marcus and 6-foot-9 forward Todor Pandov - to injuries.

Felton runs a high-low offense that ideally produces points by having one post player set up on the top of the key and pass over the defense near the basket to another post player.

Despite losing Marcus and Pandov, Western Kentucky won its third straight Sun Belt tournament and advanced to its third straight NCAA tournament, where it lost to Illinois by five points in the first round.

"Georgia should be commended because they made a great hire,'' Barnes said.

"They could have looked as long as they wanted and not found anyone more ready and qualified to take that on.''

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