Letting Them Leave

More than 40 players from the state of Georgia played in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. None of them, of course, play for the flagship school in the state.

That's a big reason, probably the biggest, that the Bulldogs relieved Dennis Felton of his duties midway through last season and are once again embarking on a new direction in the basketball program.

Felton and his staff could never put together a competitive roster of players despite being so close to one of the nation's most fertile recruiting areas. In the recruiting class of 2009 (players who will join their teams in the upcoming season), Scout.com rated 10 Georgia natives as either four-star or five-star prospects.

The Bulldogs signed none of those players.

Since 2002, Georgia has signed only five players rated four stars or higher by Scout.com and three of those saw their careers cut short by injury (Corey Gibbs), transfer (Channing Toney) or dismissal (Mike Mercer). The other two are Jeremy Price and Trey Thompkins, and Price finished last season buried on the Bulldogs' bench.

"I don't know if there's anything as far as a main reason (Georgia has not recruited well)," said Evan Daniel, Scout.com's national recruiting analyst. "Maybe they didn't recruit the state as well as they should. I think the key, especially if you are at Georgia or Georgia Tech, with so much talent around you, you have to find a way to keep the high major guys homes."

The Yellow Jackets have at least had some success in that area, bringing in five-star prospect Derrick Favors this year.

The Bulldogs, though, have been total flops, a failure made all the more noticeable by their proximity to an area that has produced so many top-flight players.

"In high school basketball recruiting, everything is cyclical," said Scout.com national recruiting director Dave Telep. "There has been a really, really good run for the state of Georgia the past few years. It's going to peak and valley a little, but with Atlanta and the surrounding areas being so big and so densely populated you have to believe that it is always a place that is going to be fertile."

"Every year I was in high school, Georgia was THE state, especially in the South," Georgia freshman point guard Dustin Ware told the Associated Press. "We just ran the South. If you took it state by state and had a playoff, Georgia, California, New York would be top teams. We always produce top players."

That list of 40 Georgia natives in this year's NCAA Tournament doesn't even count Jodie Meeks, the SEC's most prolific scorer, who played for Kentucky in the NIT this season. And how about the history of the subject? Dwight Howard, Kwame Brown, Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Dale Ellis, Gerald Wikins, Kenny Walker and Walt Frazier all called Georgia home. And they all went elsewhere to play college basketball.

Georgia's history of producing talent is hardly a secret around the country; people's knowing this history makes it even harder on the Bulldogs.

"It's an area that college coaches form north and south and east and west try to mine for players," Daniel said.

"One of the advantages of having a great recruiting base is the recruiting base. One of the disadvantages is everybody else is recognizing it, too," Telep said. "What you have seen is that Georgia's proximity in the grand scheme of things puts it not necessarily in the heart of ACC country, but on the fringe of ACC country."

And when recruits compare ACC basketball and SEC basketball, there's hardly any comparison, Telep believes.

"One is more slanted toward football; one is more slanted toward basketball," he said.

The SEC needs to address that issue on a conference level, Telep said.

"I think they do an amazing job of marketing their football," he said. "I think as a league they need to do a better job of marketing their basketball."

Still, the job at Georgia has to be considered a good one for recruiting reasons if for no other reason, Telep said.

"There is nobody who would turn down a recruiting base. To be a state school and have those resources at your disposal is absolutely an advantage," he said.

The key to Georgia and its new coach starting to keep some of the talent in the state closer to home, both Telep and Daniel said, is building relationships.

"Even more so than football recruiting, this is a personal relationship driven business," Telep said. "If you are going to lock down the state, then you have to lock down the people in your state. And it's not just the players. You have to lock down the decision makers. I'm talking about everybody. This is not a black and white game, where a relationship with the kid and the high school coach leads to a decision. This game is a lot more complex than it has ever been. The decision maker could be the assistant coaches. It could be the kid that sits next to the (prospect) in class."

"The good news for the Bulldogs is that there doesn't seem to be a stigma about their program," Daniel said, meaning the long run of mediocre recruiting could be turned around quickly with the proper coaching staff.

"I think it's a visibility thing," Daniel said. "If that new coach comes in and makes it clear they are going to spend a lot of time in the state of Georgia (they will be successful)."

"What happened five years ago, what happened ten years ago, is over," Telep said. "There is an opportunity to redefine what Georgia basketball is. You need to know what the brand of Georgia basketball is under its new coach. What Georgia needs is a guy who is going to come and stack two or three foundational recruiting classes on each other and demonstrate a commitment to the guys in the state. You can't come in and close the borders in your first year."

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