Dawgs to start season short-handed

After a 20-win season and a third-place finish in the SEC, the Georgia Bulldogs were supposed to be entering the 2014-2015 season with realistic NCAA tournament expectations, building off of an impressive 2013-2014 campaign.

Instead, the Dawgs could be kicking off the year down two starters from last season’s squad.  Granted, Mark Fox and his fan base have had several months to sulk about, deal with and get over the loss of Brandon Morris, the team’s third-leading scorer and arguably its best defender from a year ago.

But, today’s statement from CMF insinuating that Kenny Gaines may not be ready to suit up next Friday might be too much for the Bulldog Basketball Nation to bear.  During a press conference today, Fox told the AJC that Gaines would definitely not play in tomorrow’s exhibition, and that he was “pessimistic” about the junior’s chances of suiting up in Atlanta in the season-opener at Georgia Tech:

“Kenny has been ill,” Fox said Wednesday. “He will not play Thursday. He has not practiced. And really no timetable for a return. We know he’ll return at some point this season. He’s been very sick. He is getting better but he’ll not play tomorrow night.”

Fox’s vague description of Gaines’s condition will leave UGA fans speculating as to what the young man might be ailing from.  Regardless, the Dawgs’ backcourt will need to reshuffle and regroup quickly, and sophomores J.J. Frazier and Juwan Parker must find a way to make up for Gaines’s scoring.

Tomorrow night’s exhibition will give eager fans a small glimpse of some of what is to come from this year’s team, but for the players the game should serve as nothing more than a mild tune-up.  In eight days the Dawgs will be playing in a hostile environment against a Georgia Tech team that I believe will finish the season much better than the media expects.  CBS pegged the Jackets as the 13th best team out of the 15-team ACC, but with the addition of four transfers to go along with Marcus Georges-Hunt, I think that Tech could be a tough out.

Last year the Bulldogs’ NCAA hopes were plagued by early season out-of-conference losses, including one at home to Georgia Tech.  This year, Georgia was hoping to return the favor to the Jackets, but now they might have to do it without their best perimeter player.

Donte Williams’ importance and a quick look at future Bulldog Kenny Gaines

The significance of Donte Williams

Sophomore Donte Williams has grown tremendously as a player for Coach Mark Fox since setting foot on the UGA campus last season.  This year, Williams has established himself as Georgia’s most consistent offensive and defensive weapon in the paint, and he is currently 8th in the SEC in blocked shots at 1.8 per contest.  In Saturday’s huge upset of the then-ranked #12 Florida Gators, Williams set a personal best with 6 blocked shots.

Donte clearly has the mentality of a shot-blocker, making his best effort to swat anything near the rim.  However, Williams has found himself in quite a lot of foul trouble this season, which is common for aggressive post defenders.  When Williams has gotten himself into the foul trouble this year, his Georgia team has suffered mightily.

The Dawgs are just 2-10 in games this season in which Williams commits 4 or more fouls.  Conversely, UGA’s record is 11-5 when he only manages to pick up 3 or less fouls.

A similar trend can be found in conference games as well, with Georgia going just 1-7 in games when Donte commits 4 or more fouls, compared to their 3-3 record in games that see him get 3 or less personals.

The Bulldogs definitely need Donte Williams to block shots, but they need him on the court more than anything with their lack of inside depth.

Kenny Gaines preview

Two weekends ago I had the opportunity to catch the first quarter of the Region 9A tournament finals between Whitfield Academy and Landmark Christian.  The star player on Whitfield is one Kenny Gaines, who signed a letter of intent back in November to play basketball for Coach Mark Fox in Athens.

I actually saw Gaines play once last season in a rivalry game at Paideia High School – he went for 20 points in his team’s victory.

Watching Gaines warm-up before the Region Championship game last Saturday, I immediately noticed his smooth perimeter jumper; he must have made well over 50% of his warm-up three pointers.  Gaines, who is listed at 6’3″, already has a strong upper body, which enables him to shoot the ball rather effortlessly from long-range.

Once the game started, the “Kenny Gaines Show” really began.  Gaines had three dunks in the first quarter, with one of them being particularly monstrous – he drove baseline and then proceeded to take off on two feet from just inside the lane, flushing the ball down on the Landmark defender.

Defensively, Gaines is equally tenacious, using his athleticism to hound the opposing Landmark guards.  He did a great job of maintaining a low defensive stance, and I don’t recall anyone that he guarded scoring in the first 8 minutes of the game.

If you could somehow take Travis Leslie’s frame along with most of his athleticism, and then throw in Dustin Ware’s outside shot, the end result would be something similar to Kenny Gaines.

Needless to say, I am very excited about what this kid will bring to the table for the Dawgs next season.

Fox Adds Another Guard to the 2012 Backcourt

Kenny Gaines of Whitfield Academy chose Georgia over in-state rival Georgia Tech, as well as Clemson, South Carolina and Iowa.

He will join Charles Mann, who picked the Dawgs over FSU last month, as the second member of Fox’s 2012 recruiting class.

Coach Mark Fox is beginning to win recruiting battles over prominent college basketball programs, and more importantly, he’s keeping the local talent in state.  This fall Georgia fans will witness the debut of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, a member of the 2011 ESPNU100 and one of the most highly-touted UGA basketball recruits in recent years.

ESPN Recruiting describes Gaines’ strengths as follows:

He’s one of those point guards with excellent strength, a strong upper body and low center of gravity. We like him as a distributor. Will use his body to get into the lane and finds teammates. He can play honestly behind the 3-point line. Should be a solid assist man.

I happened to see Gaines play (by chance) last season when his Whitfield team played at Paideia High School in Atlanta (my girlfriend is an assistant coach for the Paideia Varsity Girl’s Basketball team, and I stuck around for the Boy’s game).  I did not know anything about either team prior to the game, but I was thoroughly impressed by a big, physical guard on the  Whitfield squad – who it turns out was Kenny Gaines.  He has a nice touch from the three-point line, and he is very strong on the offensive glass.

Gaines will be a four-year player at Georgia with a lot of upside, and I am pleased that he will be in Athens in 2012.