ATHENS, Ga. — While waiting on two players to return from Thursday's Southeastern Conference media session in Birmingham, Georgia's attempt at basketball practice was reduced to a shoot-around.
There was no need to attempt to run any plays without forwards Steve Thomas and Chris Daniels, because without those projected starters Georgia has no other player taller than 6-foot-6.
It's no wonder there were sighs of relief when Coach Jim Harrick, Thomas and Daniels finally walked onto the Stegeman Coliseum court. Real practice could begin, but one scary point had been highlighted: This team will have to rely on its perimeter game while hoping Thomas and Daniels — sophomores who have never started — make it through the season.
That's not to say Georgia, coming off a 16-15 NCAA tournament season, is without talent. There is no center and almost no inside depth, but returning starter Ezra Williams and transfer Jarvis Hayes will give Georgia two potential high scorers as wing players.
Williams averaged 12.0 points as a sophomore, his first year of eligibility last season. Hayes (6-6, 200) averaged 17.1 points — the top figure in the Southern Conference — and 5.4 rebounds two years ago at Western Carolina, and he may emerge as Georgia's top player.
While sitting out the mandatory redshirt season due to his transfer, Hayes (and twin brother Jonas Hayes) were able to practice with the team, and many observers commented that Jarvis Hayes may have been the best player on the floor.
A visitor to Thursday night's practice was former Georgia player James Banks, who played for the Bulldogs with such future NBA standouts as Dominique Wilkins and Vern Fleming in the early 1980s. Watching Hayes slam down one of his power dunks, Banks looked startled and said "Now that's for real.''
Hayes is expected to start at the guard position left open by D.A. Layne's decision to enter the NBA draft as a junior. Layne led Georgia with 16.8 points per game last year. Hayes is a different player — more of a slasher than a 3-point shooter — but he may fill a similarly significant scoring role.
"I'm going to be the same player I've always been,'' Hayes said. "I'm flattered folks may think I'm the best player, but I'm not going to put any pressure on myself to try to do more than I can.''
Thomas has gained about 15 pounds, up to about 230, and now shows more muscle on his 6-foot-8 frame. He may have been Georgia's best rebounder by late last season but made minimal offensive contributions. Daniels, from Albany, Ga., is quicker and should emerge as more of an offensive threat this season.
Joining Thomas and the 6-foot-7 Daniels at the forward spots will be Williams, Jarvis Hayes and point guard Rashad Wright.
"We're going to be quicker getting down the court,'' Harrick said.
"When Thomas is not in the game, we're going to be very small.''
Said Thomas: "I just have to play smart and not commit silly, cheap fouls.''
Tony Cole, a flashy 5-foot-11 transfer from Wabash Valley Community College, is a player to watch who will press Wright for playing time at point guard.
Cole may have more scoring ability than Wright.
Jonas Hayes, also 6-foot-6 but thicker than his brother, will be asked to provide depth at forward. The only other forward on the team is 6-foot-5 Ryan Peevy, a walk-on who also is the only senior on the roster.
Georgia was picked by SEC writers to finish fifth in the Eastern Division.
"That's good; that means we can surprise some people,'' Hayes said.
More help is coming in December, when at least one 2001 signee will join the roster.
Michael Dean, a 6-foot-2 shooting guard from Rome, is expected to join the team on Dec. 13 and be eligible for a Dec. 15 game at South Alabama. Due to complications with his high school transcripts, he was not approved by the NCAA Clearinghouse to enroll for fall semester.
Also, 6-foot-10 center Larry Turner of Baldwin County is attending Athens Tech while trying to make the ACT score needed to be admitted for the second semester. The addition of Turner would be a huge boost to the limited list of inside players.
A third Georgia signee who failed to qualify, guard Jarrod Gerald, opted for Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy. He has said he will sign with South Carolina.
Harrick has said he is open to having 6-foot-4 Fred Gibson join the team after football season. "He e-mailed me the other day and said ‘Don't forget about me,' '' Harrick said before practice opened last month.
Gibson, emerging as a star wide receiver, says he won't make a decision about playing basketball until after the football season. He won the slam-dunk contest while participating in the Georgia North-South All-Star basketball game in Athens last summer.
Georgia will play host to Alaska-Anchorage in an exhibition game Monday night. It plays host to Furman on Nov. 16 in its season opener.