Felton looking for more points from Mercer

ATHENS – Georgia basketball coach Dennis Felton wanted Mike Mercer to be more of a scorer this season, and that was before forward Takais Brown was suspended.

With Brown, the junior college transfer who is supposed to be the much-needed boost for the Bulldogs' post game, out indefinitely due to an academics-related suspension, Mercer may be Georgia's best offensive threat as it opens the 2006-07 season tonight with a 7:30 p.m. game against Southern in Stegeman Coliseum.

"I've kind of evolved in the way I look at Mike since we recruited him," Felton said. "I probably depend on him more as a scorer than a point guard like we had anticipated. I will encourage him to be aggressive offensively."

The Bulldogs return every contributor from the team that finished 15-15 last year, including leading scorer Levi Stukes (11.6 points per game), however Mercer may have the most scoring potential among the guards. He had 11 points per game as a freshman last year, mainly playing the point.

Now, he'll have more offensive freedom, like he did at South Gwinnett High School, where he averaged 19.8 points as a senior despite playing with phenom Louis Williams.

"He had a tremendous freshmen year, but he had his ups and downs as most freshmen do," Felton said. "His game is going to be more mature and more consistent in terms of confidence."

Mercer is a gifted slasher, but struggled last year with an unorthodox jump shot that yielded a 40 percent shooting percentage, including 29 percent from 3-point range. He spent the offseason rebuilding his jump shot and honed it during almost 40 summer league games in Puerto Rico.

"It's a lot better this year than it was last year," he said. "I feel very comfortable with the new style. I played a lot of games this summer, so it's battle-tested, and I think it's ready to go."

Mercer is excited about "freelancing more" this year, and an improved jump shot should open up driving lanes to the basket.

"I think he's excited about the progress he's made with his mechanics," Felton said. "I think he's awfully comfortable with it. I think he's going to be a much better deep shooter this year. I expect Mike to have an explosive year offensively."

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