Dawgs get ready to open basketball season

ATHENS — When Georgia basketball coach Dennis Felton sat down for his season-opening news conference this week, he started by thanking Tim Hix, the team's sports information director."It was nice of you to put the roster up here so I would remember who's playing for us," Felton said.

The Bulldogs, who begin practice today, will add five scholarship players to the seven who return from last year. While that kind of turnover may sound extreme, it fits the theme of the SEC this year.

"I think the SEC is very unpredictable this year," Felton said. "It's kind of wide open because some of the turnover in significant personnel."Florida lost Anthony Roberson and Matt Walsh. Alabama is without Kennedy Winston. Kentucky will have to replace Chuck Hayes and Kelenna Azubuike and LSU certainly will miss Brandon Bass.

All that's good news for Georgia, which will take any breaks it can get as it tries to rebound from an 8-20 record last year, its worst season in 30 years.

"I think this season in particular is really difficult to predict how things might play out in the league," said Felton, whose team won 2 of its 16 SEC games last year. "Our team is as unpredictable as any team in the league. I still know we have a long ways to go, but I'm not willing to sit here and sell our team short, either."

Georgia returns all five starters from last year and adds guards Mike Mercer, Billy Humphrey and Terrance Woodbury, and center Rashaad Singleton. Forward Kendrick Johnson also signed with the team but was lost for the season when he had season-ending ankle surgery this week.

Mercer, a high school teammate of Louis Williams, may make the biggest impact. Felton calls him "more athletic player than anybody I've ever coached." Overall, the team's athleticism is greatly improved, Felton said.

"A lot of the things we do seem to have come easier this year simply because things come easier to better athletes," he said. "I almost forgot what it feels like to have two guys go head-to-head and push each other (in practice). That's been fun."

Georgia will have almost five weeks of practice before it opens the season Nov. 18 against Old Dominion in the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands."I know we'll be improved, but I don't know how much improved and I don't want to put a cap on it either," Felton said. "We're excited about the possibilities. The possibilities are enormous, but the unknowns are enormous, too."

NOTES: Sophomore Younes Idrissi had surgery to correct varicose veins in the offseason but should be nearly full strength in time to start practice. ... Sophomore center Dave Bliss has been bothered by lower back issues but said it won't affect his playing time this year. ... Woodbury had surgery on his upper body two weeks ago and could be limited early in practice.

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