Bulldogs Building From Scratch

FAYETTEVILLE -- There's no way for second-year Georgia coach Dennis Felton to sugarcoat his current assessment of the Bulldogs.

"The honest truth is we're a very bad team right now," Felton said. "But we're starting from scratch. We had a film session (last week) where we were able to see for ourselves. We're a very poor basketball team right now.

"We lack in almost everything right now."

The only things Georgia doesn't lack are freshmen and sophomores with 13 of 14 holding roster spots. All but three Bulldogs were still teenagers when preseason practices started and Felton added six walk-ons last week to help in practice.

"Right now we're teaching at the very, very, very basic level," Felton said. "It's like teaching a high school team."

Felton, who led Western Kentucky to three straight NCAA Tournaments from 2001-03, took over a program in disarray last season following the dismissal of former coach Jim Harrick after academic and recruiting violations in the basketball program were uncovered.

Among just seven scholarship players were four talented seniors who helped lead Georgia to wins against rival and eventual national runner-up Georgia Tech and a season sweep of East Division champion Kentucky.

The Bulldogs finished 16-14 with a 7-9 record in the Southeastern Conference and a third win against Kentucky in the SEC Tournament semifinals could have gotten them into the NCAA field.

Now Rashad Wright, Chris Daniels, Jonas Hayes and Damien Wilkins are gone taking nearly 50 points and 18.8 rebounds per game with them.

"Their experience, their toughness, their physical and mental strength, their understanding of how to compete and their leadership will be severely missed," Felton said.

Sophomore guard Levi Stukes and sophomore forward Steve Newman played the most of any returnees last year and will be counted on to pick up the slack for the four departed seniors.

"One year's experience is better than no years of experience," Felton said. "They're most valuable leaders because they have a year's experience."

Felton said the 6-foot-8, 230-pound Newman has been helping new big men like Younes Idrissi (6-9, 230) and Sam Greavu (6-9, 240).

The sophomores and lone junior -- the Bulldogs have no seniors -- have a year with Felton to speak from while the last senior class was just as new to his system as the freshmen.

"The chemistry may even be better than last year because last year's seniors were basically like freshmen, too, trying to learn a completely different system," Newman said

The indications are from Georgia's exhibition tour in Vancouver, British Columbia, that Stukes and Newman are ready to take on those leadership roles.

Stukes averaged 9.5 point per game and started all 30 of the Bulldogs games. Newman averaged just 16 minutes per contest and 2.7 points and 2.1 rebounds.

Both scored in double figures in every game in Vancouver and Stukes put up 29 to lead a double overtime win against Trinity Western.

Georgia went 2-2 in Canada with wins against Trinity Western, Douglass College and losses to EA Sports and the University of British Columbia.

Before departing on the trip, Felton said at last week's SEC Media Days the best parts of the trip were the extra practices and game action without losses counting toward Georgia's record.

He also said he was looking forward to being able to evaluate one side of the ball at a time after scrimmages have been ultimately frustrating with negatives canceling out the positives.

"When you're going against each other and one team does something good, that means the other team didn't get it done," Felton said. "The problem with that is that the other team is your team."

Georgia did bring in some young players who will obviously have a chance to contribute this year.

Channing Toney is a 6-4, 195-pound guard who averaged 26.2 points per game for Brookwood High in Snellville, Ga. Sundiata Gaines is another potential scorer. He averaged 28.2 points for Archbishop Molloy High in Jamaica, New York.

Georgia has eight newcomers and all with an even split between four guards and four post players to compliment Stukes and Newman.

While Felton will freely admit his team will struggle this year, he won't base his happiness on wins and losses.

His eye will be on the big picture and from an attitude standpoint, he already likes what he sees.

"It's been excellent," Felton said. "We make mistakes due to the lack of discipline that comes with immaturity. But the intentions have been excellent. We have breakdowns due to a lack of leadership, but nothing purposeful.

"The guys that are here are working really hard to bring it together and build our program."

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