Dawgs Look to Bring Physicality

ATHENS - Georgia basketball team looks to establish more physicality this season.

The Bulldogs struggled in their opening game - a 68-62 win over Jacksonville on Friday night - but played without starter Donte Williams for unspecified reasons.

Georgia, who finished 15-17 last year, feel that they have a grown physically while adding depth to their already athletic roster.

They return four starters include guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and forwards Nemanja Djurisic, Marcus Thornton and Donte Williams. Among the squad's freshmen are guards Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann and forwards Houston Kessler and Brandon Morris.

Georgia head coach Mark Fox said the preseason indicated that any of the freshman have a chance to secure a starting role – even over last year's leading scorer Caldwell-Pope. But that hasn't created a division in the locker room. Fox said that competition for playing time is healthy and that the Bulldogs have plenty of it.

"We'll make a decision in the morning on who we want to start," Fox said last week. "Part of it, as always, is about the matchups and what we think. Everybody's been trying to get after it."

Sophomore forward Marcus Thornton agrees.

"It's great to have depth that go eight to twelve deep with players that can really come in and play worthy enough of maybe taking a starting position," he said. "I think that's great for us to have and is a great asset for us going forward."

This season is the first that Fox can claim all players on the active roster as his own recruits. Though he doesn't say it's a "knock on the first couple of teams" he's coached at Georgia, Fox claims the 2012-2013 bunch evokes more passion by avoiding selfishness.

"It's a wonderful group to coach," he said. "This is the first team I've had that I really look forward to coaching every day. I look forward to seeing them everyday, and I can't say that's always been the case."

"They've fully invested in how we want to function so there's much less pushback. They're very supportive of each other succeeding, and that's really something that excites us."

One thing Georgia worked to improve on this offseason was strength – especially after last year's struggles with interior scoring. Sean Hayes, head of the basketball strength and conditioning, has the Bulldogs poised to capitalize on size match-ups.

Thornton said that an extra year in the weight room added a physical maturity that could compensate for recent woes. It all started towards the end of Southeastern Conference schedule last year, when "people started to realize what it takes to play at this level."

"It took a year for a lot of people to get punished down [low], and it got us stronger," he said. "Not only are we outright stronger but we know how to use it. Sometimes people think that being physical is about pushing and shoving, but I think we've found ways to impose our physicality in other aspects of the game."

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