Depth Problems Apparent for Hoop Dawgs

ATHENS -- The depth and inexperience issues that Dennis Felton has known were coming all summer and fall finally showed themselves last week at practice.

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. "He was 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. 28.

The extra time has helped, Felton said.

"We need extra work because we're so young and so new to each other," he said.

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 said. "I 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. "That doesn't 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."

Bulldog Basketball
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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