Through Ups and Downs, Seniors At Last

ATHENS – Senior night for every college basketball program across the nation is undoubtedly an emotional event.

Fans say goodbye to four-year mainstays. Players compete on their home court during one final game.

So regardless of what happened during the course of any given senior's career, the night usually provides a poignant moment or two.

Wednesday night against LSU, Georgia seniors Chris Barnes and Jeremy Price will run through the tunnel at Stegeman Coliseum one final time. One final chance to play in front of the home crowd. One final time anticipating the ‘Rocky Guy' running through the stands. One final time for…well, everything.

"That's something that is always going through my mind," Barnes said. "These last few games coming up, it's going to be very hard on me and Jeremy. These last few years have been hard on us."

Barnes is correct: The last few years have been hard. Price, who was named to the SEC All-Freshman team, and Barnes were freshmen on the 2008 SEC Tournament Championship team. Two parts of an overachieving squad, the next three years were supposed to be full of wins and NCAA tournaments and fulfilled potential.

Instead, Dennis Felton was fired mid-year the next season, sending the program—and Barnes and Price—into uncertain times.

"I've been through a lot here," Price said. "I've been through ups, and I've been through downs. Going through a lot of those things have helped me mature more."

Some players (Zac Swansey and Troy Brewer) left the program immediately following the lost season of 2008-09. Barnes even admitted he'd never heard of coach Mark Fox when Georgia hired him.

But both Price and Barnes stuck it out. There were some tense moments, Fox indicates, as he enforced new leadership and his own way.

"It's been a long road," Barnes said. "That's all I can say; it's been a long road. We went from the SEC Champs to the coaching changes to having a good team this year. All I can say is, it's been a long road. There have been some tough times, but there's also been some good times."

After the building block that was last season, Barnes and Price are currently amid the most successful run Georgia has made in nearly a decade. Price is averaging 9.4 points and 5.1 rebounds a game as a starter. Barnes is collecting 3.4 points and 3.8 rebounds as the team's sixth man.

"The toughest time was just losing games—losing a lot of games," Barnes said. "And losing our coach, not knowing who we were going to have as a coach. We got coach Fox and he's really turned this program around."

Both Price and Barnes are set to graduate in May, something they each take a great deal of pride in. Weathering the storms of seasons past is paying off now, Barnes says with a smile.

"You know I haven't been with them their whole career," Fox said, "but I will say in two years they have matured a great deal. They have been a real joy to coach. They both have very magnetic smiles and great personalities. I love seeing them every day. I have a lot of fun with those two guys. That doesn't mean we didn't fight for probably the first six months that we were here. But they both have grown a great deal. Both should leave with degrees here in a couple months, and both have made an impact on this program. I think they take great pride in what they've really tried to do."

While much of the Bulldogs' success should be attributed to juniors Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, a few quick stats prove the importance of the elder Price.

Georgia is 11-1 when Price scores ten points or more in a game. The Bulldogs are 12-2 when Price has three fouls or less. So, when Price plays well, Georgia wins. And talking to players and coaches, nobody has developed more—on-and-off the court—more than Price.

"He's really matured a lot as a person," Barnes said of Price. "Like, coach Fox, he calls us brothers because we're kind of similar. His attitude has really changed. He lost a lot of weight and his game has really developed. It really helped us out a lot this year that he's grown as a person."

Added Fox: "I think (Price's) conditioning has been much better. I think his weight is certainly lighter than it was a year ago. I think his endurance is better. I think he had—I think last summer—an offseason that enabled him to come in better condition and maintain it. He's been better disciplined about his diet, and it really has allowed him to have a good senior year."

So, while most will spend time wondering if Wednesday night will be the final home game for Thompkins and Leslie, both of whom will mull over early entry into the NBA, don't forget about Price and Barnes.

They could have bailed on this program long ago. Others did. Instead, they're now an important factor in determining just how successful this season will be.

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