ATHENS, Ga. — There was no official announcement Tuesday, but Georgia coaches hope to have junior forward Steve Thomas back on the team for tonight’s home game against South Alabama.
Thomas, the team’s tallest and most physical player, has been academically ineligible for fall semester. He took his last final exam Monday and, the unofficial reports Tuesday are that he will regain his eligibility.
"I think (an official announcement) will be (today),’’ said Coach Jim Harrick, whose team has won three straight games to improve to 4-3 after a slow start.
Thomas probably will eventually return to the starting lineup, allowing Harrick to have the flexibility of bringing Jonas Hayes and Damien Wilkins off the bench. Hayes and Wilkins have shared starting duty, but neither can replace the physical presence of the 6-foot-8, 250-pound Thomas.
;“I think Steve is really our best post defender,’’ Harrick said. “He’s as good at rebounding as anybody we have, and he’s our strongest guy. He also throws the best outlet pass.’’
Harrick noted that Georgia gave up 19 offensive rebounds in a loss to Georgia Tech and also was hurt inside in losses to Minnesota and Texas.
Georgia was 1-3 after the loss to Minnesota but has bounced back with wins over Colorado, California and, most recently, Gonzaga.
Georgia’s top scorers, Jarvis Hayes and Ezra Williams, hit stride in the 95-83 win over Gonzaga. Hayes scored a season-best 29 points and Williams added 21 points.
An unexpected boost off the bench was provided by Richard Wehunt, who scored 13 points in 18 minutes.
Wehunt, who made three 3-point shots in four attempts, will play more minutes after sophomore Mike Dean left the team last week.
Tonight’s game begins a five-game homestand for Georgia, which plays host to Appalachian State Sunday at 2 p.m.
South Alabama (4-3) is coached by John Pelphrey, the former Kentucky player who has served as an assistant coach at Florida the last six seasons. Pelphrey is using the Florida system.
“They do everything that Florida does,’’ Harrick said. “It will be a real good game for us to work on our Florida stuff, quite frankly.’’
If Thomas is back, Harrick’s team will have a better chance when it actually plays Florida.
Thomas has participated in practice in Athens and should be able to move into a playing rotation, if not the starting lineup, as early as tonight.