Felton catches up with old friends

ATHENS — Dennis Felton begins his second season as Georgia's basketball coach tonight with no real idea what to expect.

The Bulldogs have only one returning starter, no scholarship juniors or seniors and absolutely no positive expectations. But at least Felton will be comfortable with one thing when Georgia takes the Stegemen Coliseum court at 7 p.m. -- the opponent.

The Bulldogs will play Western Kentucky, which Felton coached for five seasons before coming to Athens. The game is part one of a contractual obligation Georgia has to the Hilltoppers because it hired Felton.

A stipulation in Felton's contract stated that whatever team hired him would have to play Western four times, twice in its gym and twice in Bowling Green, Ky.

"It was my idea," Felton said. "It was kind of a win-win situation."

For Felton, the move counteracted some of the monetary buyout he would have had to pay for breaking his contract, and, "at the same time, it was a way for me to kind of say thank you to them for the opportunity they gave me."

For Western, it means two guaranteed home games against a big-conference opponent and the gate receipts and exposure that will bring. Felton knows how important that is for a team like the Hilltoppers, who have gotten so good that no high-profile team wants to play on their home floor for fear of being beaten.

"I went through it myself for many years where we just couldn't get anybody to play us," Felton said.

Felton hasn't put any extra pressure on his team to knock off his former employer, but the Bulldogs still understand the significance of the game.

"We know it means a lot for Coach Felton if we show his old team he came to a program that can beat them," said sophomore guard Levi Stukes, the Bulldogs' only experienced player. "We all know deep down, knowing Coach Felton, that if we get this win, he'll be real proud of us."

The game will provide Dennis Felton the opportunity to catch up with plenty of old friends, but he isn't thinking much about that, he said.

"I have so much respect for their ability as a basketball team that can come up here and whup us, that it's not exciting at all," he said. "I'm just really, really preoccupied with figuring out how to win the game. I just can't get past that."

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