With five of his scholarship players sidelined by injuries, Georgia's second-year basketball coach took the practice floor one day with three scholarship players. Since he had just added six walk-ons the day before, Dennis Felton had enough players to get through the workout, but "half of the guys were people I had just met the day before," he said.
Odd scenes like that are going to become commonplace as the 2004-05
Bulldogs begin the season with only eight scholarship players, one
upperclassmen, no seniors and just one player who has averaged more than
three points per game in a collegiate season.
"This is the biggest challenge I've ever seen as a head coach or an
assistant," Felton said. "Practice has gone at a very, very methodical
pace, as you might expect. Teaching has been the main thing, and it will
be all season.
"The inexperience is one thing. I just wish we had more of it. The
double challenge is we're young, but we just don't have enough of even
the young guys."
Particularly when they're all hurt. Freshman guard Channing Toney (hip
flexor), freshman guard Sundiata Gaines (sprained toe), freshman center
Dave Bliss (elbow) and sophomore guard Levi Stukes (stomach) have all
missed time due to injury. The three freshmen are all back in practice,
but Stukes had a Tuesday doctor's appointment to try to figure out why
he is having continued stomach problems.
Forward Corey Gibbs (knee) and walk-on guard Alex Evans (knee) are out
for an extended period of time. Gibbs, a sophomore who has yet to play,
won't be completely healthy until December. Evans, who has made a good
early impression, is expected back by mid-November.
Stukes is the only proven player the Bulldogs have returning. He
averaged 9.5 points and 2.6 rebounds last year and is again expected to
play shooting guard.
Gaines, a product of Jamaica, N.Y., is the frontrunner to be the
Bulldogs' starting point guard. He averaged 28.2 points as a senior at
Archbishop Molloy High School, which also produced NBA players Kenny Anderson and Kenny Smith.
"Sundiata has done a very good job early on," Felton said.
always my best hope for (the point guard spot)."
Most college basketball teams didn't start practice until last
weekend, but the Bulldogs were allowed to begin 10 days earlier because
they have scheduled four exhibition games in Canada beginning on Oct.
The extra time has helped, Felton said.
"We need extra work because we're so young and so new to each
But it's not going to make a whole lot of difference once the season
starts Nov. 23 against Western Kentucky.
"As a coach, I have to have a realistic perspective," Felton
have to understand where we're at. I can't expect us to be great today
or tommorrow or next week."
Felton will try to keep his team's spirit up by focusing on doing
things the right way and looking at the big picture, he said.
"We're focused on building a great program," he said.
mean you win every game right now. It means we're doing the things
necessary to be great. It's not about where we're at now, it's about
where we're going."
2003-04 record: 16-14
Last game: Lost to Iowa State in the first round of the NIT
Key losses: G Rashad Wright (14.4 ppg), G Damien Wilkins (12.6 ppg), F
Jonas Hayes (11.9 ppg), F Chris Daniels (10.2 ppg).
Returning starters: G Levi Stukes (9.5 ppg).
Top newcomers: G Sundiata Gaines (MVP of Catholic High School
Association in New York, N.Y.), G Channing Toney (First-team all-state
at Brookwood High School, averaged 26.2 points last year)
First game: Nov. 23 vs. Western Kentucky, Stegeman Coliseum
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