Opinion: New Direction Needed for Program

ATHENS – It's now clear that this just is not working any more.

Georgia dropped its fifth consecutive game on Saturday – this time to rival Florida – and unless the Bulldogs make an improbable run to the NCAA Tournament, a place not visited since Dennis Felton took over, a change is needed by the end of the season. While Felton was thrown into an unbelievably difficult situation five years ago, the time has come for Georgia to move in a different direction with its basketball program.

Stuck near the bottom of the SEC standings for most of the Felton tenure, Georgia basketball still has not reached its potential. There is far too much talent in state for the Bulldogs to string together NIT appearances during his tenure. No question, Felton was dealt a vicious hand full of probation, scholarship reduction and, for the most part, fan apathy. Felton has lifted the program from, and kept it out of the same sort of shame associated with Jim Harrick.

Still, Felton knew coming into the situation the hand he was dealt. While he did excellent working cleaning up Harrick's mess, Georgia basketball should be further along than it is right now. The future does not look better either, as Georgia is in jeopardy of yet another losing season with Felton at the helm – that should not be the case. Georgia should not be in this position six years into a coaching tenure.

Felton did the best job possible the first couple of seasons coaching what he had, and that included limited numbers of scholarship players. Even when he did have some scholarship players to use the second season they were too young to know what to do. The change needed has little to do with the first part of Felton's time in Athens. Instead, the problems are after those years.

Even with the burden of sanctions on the program a few years ago, Georgia basketball should be far better off than it is right now. Player recruitment and retention has been poor. Perhaps the wrong types of players were recruited to Georgia... a slew of them are no longer with the program, or never left their mark. Then again, knowing the character of a player, and understanding if that character fits into your program is an essential part of recruiting.

Two players, Dave Bliss and Sundiata Gaines, have my admiration for being hard working and never giving up. Gaines has had the burden of lifting the program for the last four seasons. Bliss has gotten more out of himself than any other player in the Felton Era. But those two alone couldn't possibly be expected to make Georgia a winner. Consider how many players have signed with Georgia and are no longer with the program for one reason or another:

2003-04

Felton got rid of Wayne Arnold and Steve Thomas before the 2003-04 season even started. Marcus Sikes has transferred and now plays for Cincinnati. Corey Gibbs, who at one time served a nine-game suspension for being caught obtaining books and supplies at the University Bookstore beyond allowable amounts, was forced out of college ball with injuries after limited playing time.

Class of 2004

Younes Idrissi's scholarship was not renewed before his junior season. In a release about Idrissi, Felton said: "In order for our program to continue with its growth and development, we need everyone to put forward an honest effort in being responsible as student-athletes and devoted to our mission for excellence." Another member of the 2004 signing class, Channing Toney, abruptly transferred to UAB just before the 2006-07 season. Toney had started 51 of 56 games while in Athens. Toney is averaging 12 points a game for the Blazers this season.

Class of 2005

In 2005, Felton seemed on the right recruiting path. He signed several promising players, but none have has a lasting positive impact on the program. Louis Williams, the best player Felton has signed at Georgia, never stepped foot on campus – electing to play in the NBA. His teammate, Mike Mercer seemed like a soon-to-be star, but got hurt at the end of last season. Then, before playing a game this year, he was suspended for 15 games for missing too many classes. A month later Felton dismissed Mercer for "failure to adhere to team standards and policies." Earlier this month Rashaad Singleton left the program. Another post player signed that season, Kendrick Johnson, transferred before making an impact at all. Billy Humphrey, who was arrested last week on underage possession of alcohol and failure to obey traffic controls charges, has been the focus of off-court frustration this season. He was also arrested for a felony weapons charge for having a butterfly knife in his dorm room earlier this season. Humphrey was placed on 18 months probation as a result of the first arrest. He has been battling a knee injury the entire season. The class Felton signed in 2005 was an utter disaster.

Class of 2006

Last year Felton signed Albert Jackson and Takais Brown. While Jackson is still on the team, he was suspended the first six games of this season for failing to go to class. Brown was suspended nine games for the same problem, and then Felton dismissed him from the team just before the start of the season.

In all, too many players have left the program, and those who have not have more often than not gotten into trouble one way or another. It brings me no joy to advocate the ending the tenure of a coach. However, not getting to the NCAA Tournament should not be accepted at Georgia. For too long now, Georgia is watching it's hated rivals – Florida and Tennessee – take the upper hand in basketball in the SEC. That must end, and it must end now. Removing Felton is the start of that process, but it will not be the end of it. The Athletic Department should redouble its focus on building a lasting winning basketball legacy in Athens.


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