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Deeper Georgia team set for home opener

ATHENS, Ga. — At first glance Coach <b>Jim Harrick's</b> Georgia roster looks thin — especially on inside players. When center <b>Steve Thomas</b> lost his academic eligibility, at least for fall semester, Georgia was left with no player taller than 6-foot-7. Instead, when Georgia plays host to Belmont today at 1 p.m. in its home opener, it should have better depth than last year, when it won 22 games and a share of the SEC East title.

The improved depth showed when, even without Thomas and starting forward Chris Daniels, Georgia opened its season with a close 77-71 loss to No. 5 Texas in New York last week.

 The depth also showed when such backups as Wayne Arnold and Mike Dean put up big numbers in a 118-79 exhibition victory over the EA Sports All-Stars Monday night at the Stegeman Coliseum.

 Arnold, a freshman guard from Berkmar High, scored 20 points in 20 minutes while making 4 of 5 3-point attempts. Dean, a sophomore guard from Rome, added 10 points with a team-leading eight rebounds.

 Meanwhile, forward Damien Wilkins, a transfer from North Carolina State, has made a big impact in his first appearances with the team. Wilkins scored 16 points with seven rebounds against Texas and added 14 points — some on thundering slams — with six assists and five rebounds in the exhibition game.  The bottom line is that even without Thomas, Georgia should have a strong rotation of at least eight players.

 Harrick won't have the most height in the Southeastern Conference, but the effort against Texas showed the Bulldogs will enough talent to play with most teams — especially with Daniels back from his one-game suspension.

 "The shock to all these guys is they're not going to get as many minutes in the conference as they've been getting,'' Harrick warned.

 Harrick will start guards Rashad Wright and Ezra Williams and forwards Daniels, Wilkins and Jarvis Hayes — the leading scorer in the SEC last year and a preseason All-America pick.

 The concern is that Jonas Hayes is the only backup player inside, at least until Thomas returns, but Dean and Arnold are ready to play.

 The 6-foot-4 Arnold, named Georgia's "Mr. Basketball'' by the Atlanta Tipoff Club and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year, is working as the backup to Wright at point guard and at the No. 2 guard.

 Arnold's confident 3-point shot already has made an impression on Harrick.  

"He is very impressive,'' Harrick said. "I noticed the first day I saw him he had as good a base, as good a launch, as anybody I've coached.''

 Said Arnold: "(Harrick) is not telling me not to shoot. When I get open, I'm known for shooting.  Big players make big shots. I'm trying to be a big-time player.''

 Belmont (1-1) opened with a 76-48 loss to Notre Dame before beating Brown 83-77. The Bruins start two 6-foot-8 inside players, senior center Adam Sonn and junior forward Adam. Sonn is averaging 13.5 points and 13.0 rebounds. Guard Steve Drabyn leads Belmont, 11-17 last season, with 17 points per game.  

Georgia plays at Georgia Tech Wednesday night at 7:30 in a game to be televised by Fox SportSouth. After tonight, it does not have another home game until Dec. 18, when it plays host to South Alabama.

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