As recently as last weekend, the gun-shy Bulldogs weren’t taking even that for granted.
“There’s still a lot of stuff in the paper,” senior Damien Wilkins said following the team’s win over Vanderbilt on Saturday. “Hopefully, in the next four days, they won’t come down with another suspension.”
Last year at this time, the Bulldogs were getting ready to head into tournament week when athletic director Vince Dooley decided the findings of an NCAA investigation were significant enough to justify pulling the team out of the postseason. The aftermath of the investigation has continued for a year, leaving Wilkins to worry once again.
His worst fears, though, weren’t realized, and Georgia (15-12 overall, 7-9 SEC) will play Auburn (14-13, 5-11) today in the Georgia Dome at 1 p.m. in the tournament’s opening round. The Bulldogs are the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Division; Auburn is the West’s fourth seed.
If Georgia wins, its will get a chance to beat No. 8 Kentucky for the third time this season in a game that would be critical for its NCAA Tournament hopes. The Wildcats earned a bye through today’s first round and will play today’s winner at 1 p.m. Friday, but Georgia coach Dennis Felton isn’t concerned about his team taking its eye off the opening game.
“I think our team is well aware of the fact we can’t overlook anybody,” he said. “Our team understands anybody can beat us.”
Georgia’s players are too happy to have this opportunity to waste it by looking past anyone, they say.
“We have to cherish it,” Jonas Hayes said. “To get a chance to play in the SEC Tournament after a year away, we’ll enjoy it.”
Following last year’s debacle, Jonas’ twin brother Jarvis gave up his final year of eligibility and entered the NBA Draft. He was chosen No. 10 overall by the Washington Wizards and now makes millions of dollars of a year, but the sting remains, he said.
“It’s still tough to swallow,” he said. “I think it’ll linger on for the rest of our lives.”
None of the Bulldogs’ seniors watched the SEC Tournament last year. It would have been too painful, all four said.
“My dad kept saying, ‘Do you want to come watch some games?,’” point guard Rashad Wright said. “I just said, ‘No.’”
“I spent spring break sitting at home in a dark room,” Chris Daniels said.
Felton praised his seniors Wednesday for not allowing the way last year ended to affect their effort this year.
“It could have very easily torn them down to where they wouldn’t have any fight in them,” he said.
Instead, the Bulldogs have used their pain as motivation to redeem themselves, something they have a chance to do starting at 1 p.m. today.
“It helps us not to take things for granted anymore,” Daniels said.
“We’re going to play every play like it is our last play.”