The Healing Begins Friday for Hoop Dawgs

ATHENS - The healing begins Friday, when Georgia's men's basketball team plays its season opener in Stegeman Coliseum against Western Carolina.

The game will start after the Lady Bulldogs finish their first game of the season, which is set to tip off at 6 p.m.

"It shows you how much I allow myself to be distracted," first-year coach Dennis Felton said. "I didn't realize it was a doubleheader. I've been totally focused on Western Carolina."

The doubleheader also has little significance for the Bulldogs players, particularly the four seniors who will make up the core of the team. Tonight will be the first regular season game for Georgia since the players learned in March that athletic director Vince Dooley had decided to pull the team out of the SEC and NCAA tournaments due to the results of an NCAA investigation.

Senior Jonas Hayes said he wants to use this season "just to get the taste out of my mouth. I want to leave this place on a high note, on cloud nine. We want to leave feeling like we accomplished more."

Felton said he can sense how anxious his team is for a fresh start.

"The way I perceive it is the players are very much looking forward to getting back on the court," he said. "I'm looking forward to it, but I look forward to every day. It's a thrill to have the opportunity to build something."

No one is expecting this team to duplicate what last year's team did. That group, which was paced by Jarvis Hayes and Ezra Williams, was poised to enter the NCAA Tournament as either a No. 3 or No. 4 national seed. This team is picked generally to finish in the lower half of the SEC East, and most observers think it will be lucky to make the NCAA Tournament.

Even Felton and the players aren't making any predictions.

"We're just hoping for success, period," Felton said. "I think we understand that we are in a very, very challenging situation. It's always difficult to win basketball games. It's going to be that much more challenging for this year's team. We're just hoping for any little bit of success we can have. Any success that we do experience, we're going to cherish it."

Senior point guard Rashad Wright said, "I want to win, but... that'll be difficult in a tough league, but if we work hard and do what we need to do, we can make it."

The main concern is the loss of the 34.9 points averaged by Hayes and Williams. The four returning players the Bulldogs have totaled 31.8.

(The Bulldogs also lost Steve Thomas, who averaged 10.2 points per game last year but was kicked off the team earlier this year.)

"It'll be interesting to see where the points come from," Felton said. "We're going to have to rely more on team and less on star power than this team has the last few years. That's OK with me. That's how I like to play. We want to be a team that scores as a team."

Exactly how that team will look tonight is unclear. The Bulldogs started two true freshmen, guard Levi Stukes and forward Steve Newman, in their two exhibition wins.

Forward Jonas Hayes, Jarvis' twin brother, is questionable for tonight's game due to a lingering foot injury. The status of guard Damien Wilkins also is in doubt after he sprained his ankle during Wednesday's practice.

Felton wouldn't commit this week to a starting lineup.

"When I send them out there, I guess we'll know," he said. Georgia vs. Western Carolina

When/Where: 8 p.m./Stegeman Coliseum
Records*: Georgia 19-8, 11-5 Southeastern Conference, Western Carolina 9-19, 6-10 Southern Conference
Coaches: Georgia -- Dennis Felton 0-0, first season; Western Carolina -- Steve Shurina 27-60, fourth season.

Western Carolina starters*: G Kevin Martin 6-7, Jr. (22.8 ppg, 3.8 rpg), G James Johnson 6-1, So. (1.4 ppg, 1.3 rpg), F Corey Muirhead 6-10, So. (3.5 ppg, 2.7 rpg), F Lunzaya Nlandu 6-7, Jr. (first year)

Georgia starters*: G Rashad Wright 6-3, Sr. (7.8 ppg, 5.5 apg), G Levi Stukes 6-1, Fr. (first year), F Damien Wilkins 6-7, Sr. (11.7 ppg, 5.8 rpg), F Chris Daniels 6-7, Sr. (9.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg), F Steve Newman 6-8, Fr. (first year)

Outlook: Martin is drawing some interest from NBA scouts, but he's all the Catamounts have got. He started 22 games last year, and is the only Western Carolina player with more than three career starts. The Bulldogs' non-conference schedule isn't very challenging this year, which is a good thing for a group that will have to figure out who is going to pick up the scoring slack left by Jarvis Hayes and Ezra Williams. It will be interesting to see how Felton's first team takes shape in its first two games. The third game, a road trip to Gonzaga, will be Georgia's first real test.

Next up: Georgia vs. Florida Atlantic, Tuesday, 7 p.m., Athens *All records and averages from last season

UGA women's basketball capsule

Georgia vs. Georgia State
When/Where: 6 p.m./Stegeman Coliseum
Records*: Georgia 21-10, 10-4 Southeastern Conference, Georgia State 20-11, 12-4 Atlantic Sun Conference
Coaches: Georgia -- Andy Landers 585-179, 25th season; Georgia State -- Lea Henry 152-107, 10th season
Georgia State starters*: G Dee Dee Merriweather 5-5, Jr. (2.1 ppg, 1.3 rgp), G Patechia Hartman 5-6, Jr. (6.8 ppg, 4.0 apg), F Monica Thomas 5-10, So. (6.5 ppg, 2.4 rgp), F Holly Coates 6-1, Sr. (6.4 ppg, 6.2 rgp), C Yvette Tisdale 6-3, Sr. (5.3 ppg, 5.1 rpg).

Georgia starters*: G Alexis Kendrick 5-7, So. (12.4 ppg, 5.1 apg) G Sherill Baker 5-8, So. (9.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg) F Kara Braxton 6-6, Jr. (15.7 ppg, 7.3 apg), F Katie Frye 6-0, Jr. (2.1 ppg, 1.9 rpg), C Christi Thomas 6-5, Sr. (16 ppg, 8 rpg).

Outlook: Georgia State lost its top two scorers from a year ago -- Evita Rogers (15.5) and Angelina Miller (13.5). Meanwhile, the Lady Bulldogs return most of their key players and are hoping to make a Final Four appearance this year. The Lady Panthers are a program on the rise, with six straight winning seasons, but this game won't be a contest. Georgia's inside presence of the 6-6 Braxton and 6-5 Thomas is too big and too talented for Georgia State to handle. The cupcakes run out quickly this year for the Lady Bulldogs, who have three road trips after this game, at Georgia Southern, at Santa Clara and then at Stanford.

Next up: Georgia vs. Georgia Southern, Tuesday, 7 p.m., Statesboro

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