Conference Play Set to Begin

Conference Play Set to Begin

ATHENS - Coach Mark Fox was already juggling his starting lineup before the injury to sophomore Marcus Thornton in late December.

With Thornton sidelined indefinitely following knee surgery, the rotation has become further muddled as the Bulldogs ready for the conference opener against Alabama Saturday.

"If we went small all the time it'd just put you in such a disadvantage rebounding and defensively," Fox said. "We're small in the backcourt to begin with. We have to play very intelligent basketball."

Freshman Nemanja Djurisic scored 17 points and posted nine rebounds in his first career start versus Winthrop Dec. 27 and will be counted on to continue playing increased minutes, Fox said.

Fellow post Donte Williams has started all 14 games, averaging 7.2 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. Junior John Florveus and freshman Tim Dixon are expected to add depth to cover Thornton's absence.

"I think we have a good understanding of what guys can do and what they can't do at this time of their careers," Fox said. "It's important to know those things. We've still got some growing to do."

The Bulldogs finished the non-conference portion of their schedule 9-5 and are currently on a five-game winning streak.

"We learned a lot about our team offensively and defensively," senior guard Gerald Robinson said. "It's been a transition this year. We learned a lot and everybody has been growing."

Now Georgia must prepare for a gauntlet on the front-end of the SEC slate -- Alabama at home followed by trips to Florida and Vanderbilt.

Alabama is 11-3 and features the frontline duo of senior JaMychal Green (15.3 points/6.8 rebounds per game) and junior Tony Mitchell (15.1 points/7.4 rebounds).

"Their best players came back," Fox said. "That's the bottom line. Their best players came back, and that's why they're having such a great start. They have a very good team. I have a lot of respect for how they're playing."

Alabama last played Jan. 3 – a 73-48 win against Georgia Tech.

"Starting the SEC right out of the gates going with one of the best teams in the conference and, really, in the country," senior guard Dustin Ware said. "They do a lot of things well, inside and outside and defensively they're really tough. We're going to have to come to play."

Prior to Thornton's injury, Fox tinkered with the starting lineup, specifically in the frontcourt. The third-year coach brought Robinson off the bench in one game and recently switched junior Vincent Williams into the starting lineup for Ware.

"(Ware) and Gerald, I don't think there's any doubt with the loss of Trey (Thompkins) and Travis (Leslie), put way too much pressure on themselves," Fox said. "They saw so much inexperience around them, and they both started putting pressure on themselves because of that."

Coming off the bench, Ware has played more relaxed. He led the team with 15 points Dec. 30 against Delaware State.

"We just have to keep playing hard," Ware, averaging 8.9 points, said. "Marcus being out is definitely a huge blow to us, but I think the biggest thing is our big guys really improved a lot since the beginning of the year."

THORNTON'S RETURN UNKNOWN, BUT EXPECTED

Thornton, who had his knee scoped following an injury sustained in the win over Furman Dec. 23, will return at some point this season, Fox said.

An exact time table is not yet known.

"He won't practice," Fox said. "He ain't playing. He's gonna be a while. I think we'll get him back this season, yes."

HELLO FROM LOS ANGELES

Trey Thompkins, the team's leading scorer a year ago, contacted Fox Thursday to catch up with the happenings of his former teammates.

Thompkins is averaging 7.3 minutes, 3.3 points and 0.8 rebounds per game with the Los Angeles Clippers. Travis Leslie, also with the Clippers, has played in two games and scored a total of four points.

Both gave up their last season of eligibility and were drafted in the second round of the NBA draft in June.

"I've supported those guys' decision," Fox said. "I really have. Can't live backwards. I think they both are realizing that the pro game is different than the college game and there's a lot of really good players there."

ROME'S A GO, Marshall NOT

Jay Rome, a tight end on the football team, will return to the basketball squad after leaving to be with teammates for the Outback Bowl. Rome the football player redshirted this season. As a basketball player, he's already seen the court in one game.

"I think he'll help us in practice," Fox said.

Defensive back Nick Marshall, originally slated to play both football and basketball, is not expected to play with the team this season, Fox said.

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