Georgia’s 6-foot-10 senior center knows what everyone thinks of him, and he’s not even going to argue that it’s untrue.
“I think a lot of times people have counted me out as not talented enough to play at this level or not good enough to match up with such-and-such a guy,” Bliss said. “I’ve found success by making sure that no one ever plays harder than me and never plays tougher than me. Have I gotten outplayed before, sure, but I’m not going to let those other things happen.”
Bliss, recruited four years ago out of Wausau, Wis., in the lowest era of recent Georgia basketball history was supposed to have been sent to the bench by more talented teammates long ago, but in his final season, he’s averaging career highs in both scoring and minutes played. And he’s doing it in his own style.
“He’s very much a blue-collar type player,” head coach Dennis Felton said. “He’s a big, strong guy who uses those physical skills well. There’s nothing explosive about him or nothing that adds flair to his game but he understands almost all the time what needs to be done, and he grinds it out.”
Bliss has started all 22 games for the Bulldogs (12-10, 3-6 SEC) this year and is expected to start today when Georgia takes on No. 4 Tennessee (22-2, 9-1) in Stegeman Coliseum.
Bliss is a grinder off the court as well. He already has graduated with a degree in political science and will have one more semester after this one to earn a second degree in real estate. Both subjects are personal interests more than career choices, he said, as he’d like to work in basketball in some capacity, whether it be coaching or scouting or administration.
Bliss was expected to be a complement to or backup for Takais Brown this season, but he was thrust into a more prominent role when Brown was dismissed from the team before the season began.
“Oh man has he responded,” Felton said. “He’s having a fantastic year. He’s clearly playing his best basketball.”
Bliss is averaging 7.7 points and 5.2 rebounds this season, and 8.6 points and 6.2 rebounds in SEC action. Bliss has scored in double figures in five of the last six games. In the last two seasons, he had six double-digit scoring games combined.
What’s more impressive to Felton is the fact Bliss is averaging 23 minutes per game. Against South Carolina on Wednesday, he played 34 minutes and had his first double-double of the season with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The minutes take a particular toll on Bliss because for three seasons he has battled a back injury that nearly caused him to quit the sport after his freshman season.
“We went into the season thinking he was going to be a 15-20 minute guy who was going to be just hell on wheels for those 15 or 20 minutes,” Felton said. “We had no way of knowing that he could even stand up to 25 or 30 minutes per game, but obviously with the loss of guys, he needed to be in the game more.”
Felton would love to have Bliss on the court all 40 minutes, but that’s not possible.
“I get tired partly because I’m just big,” Bliss said. “That’s just the way I’m built, for strength more than endurance, but it’s part of the game and you dig through it. I’m just trying to give us everything I can and trying to adjust to playing closer to 30 minutes a game than 15 or 20 minutes.”
Felton often has to send Bliss back in the game before the 255-pounder has had a chance to catch his breath.
“I can’t tell you how many times this year I have called him to go back in the game before he was physically ready to in terms of dealing with his fatigue,” Felton said, “but he’s gone in there and battled.”