Senior Terrence Woodbury remembers the speeches well. After the Bulldogs pulled off their miracle run to the tournament championship last year, it was easy for Woodbury to relive the memories with an air of confidence. Of course he believed it would happen, too. This year, Georgia finds itself in a familiar situation. Once again the Bulldogs are struggling. Again, they're the worst team in the SEC East. Again, a conference championship seems impossible. But this time, Woodbury doesn't need to be convinced a miracle can happen. He already knows it's possible.
"We have better players than we did last year. It shouldn't be that hard for us, we've just got to put it together," said Woodbury, Georgia's leading scorer this season. "If we get our first one, we'll get our second one, and then we've just got to see if we can keep it going."
Last year's success provides the blueprint for this weekend's quest, but using the past as prologue to another tournament run comes with a healthy dose of irony. After all, the best lesson the Bulldogs took from their miracle journey to that SEC title was that this time of year, the one thing they can't afford to do is focus on the past.
When Georgia tips off its title defense against Mississippi State this afternoon, center Albert Jackson said the Bulldogs won't be looking back. They won't be thinking about the regular season's disappointments. They won't be thinking about Dennis Felton, who was fired as head coach midway through the season. They won't remember their last game against Mississippi State – a 67-61 defeat in January. They'll be focused on making new memories.
"We have four games, and we can make it to the big dance," Jackson said. "We don't think about the past. We don't think about wins and losses. We don't think about who beat us. Right now, we're thinking we can beat anybody out there. You block everything out in the past and just focus on the present."
That mentality reflects the mind-set of last year's team. So does the record – just 3-13 in the SEC, one game worse than the 2007-08 team fared. But little else remains from the team the pulled off one of the most unexpected runs in SEC history.
Gone is Felton, who climbed to the top of a ladder to cut down the net in Atlanta last year. Gone is Dave Bliss, who hit the shot to give the Bulldogs the lead in overtime against Mississippi in the first round of last year's tournament. Gone is Gaines, the man who was certain Georgia could accomplish the impossible.
Of all the players who had a major impact on last year's championship, Woodbury is the only one who remains, averaging 16 points per game in the tournament. He may need to do even better this year, and that's something that wouldn't surprise Jackson at all.
"Wood doesn't want it to be over with, just like ‘Yata didn't want it to be over with," Jackson said. "A lot of times, that will from those seniors, that lifts the rest of the team. ‘Yata played excellent throughout the tournament, and I can sense that same type of performance from Terrance."
It's not just Woodbury's attitude that is reminiscent of last season. It's all the little things.
A year ago, Georgia's record looked bad, and it wasn't exactly riding a tide of success to end the season, getting blown out by Mississippi in their regular-season finale.
This year, there are actually a few glimmers of hope. Georgia won three games in the past three weeks. While the record wasn't impressive, freshmen Trey Thompkins and Dustin Ware made big strides as the season went along. Woodbury topped 30 points in wins over Florida and Kentucky. While the start of SEC play was marked by locker room strife and turmoil, the Bulldogs actually began to gel by year's end, Woodbury said.
"Even though we lost games at the end of the season last year, you could kind of see us building a little bit of momentum – not necessarily with wins, but with chemistry on the court," Woodbury said. "I can kind of see that with this group."
This year, Georgia's regular season ended with a thud, too. The Bulldogs lost to South Carolina 68-51 on senior night, and Woodbury marked his final game at Stegeman Coliseum with a 4-of-21 performance from the floor.
But that was in the past, and Georgia's not thinking about that – even if what happened a year remains the most popular topic of conversation. The way Woodbury sees it, his entire career boils down to the next four days, and he intends to make the most of them.
"Even though we lost the other night, I told everyone after the game, that part of our season is over," Woodbury said. "We've got a whole new season, and it's four games long if we want it to be that long. That's what we're shooting for now."