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January 9, 2009In football, it's the quarterback that's generally considered the toughest position for a freshman to learn. In basketball, it's the point guard.
With Sundiata Gaines now playing professional basketball in Italy, the job of running the offense for Dennis Felton's Bulldogs has fallen to freshman Dustin Ware and sophomore Zac Swansey, two players who are still trying to find their way as Georgia opens SEC play Saturday against visiting Tennessee.
"Our point guards are really young and inexperienced but they're hanging in there and getting better all the time. As they continue to accrue experience they'll continue to get better, both of them," Felton said. "They've got pretty solid assist to turnover ratios and that's pretty commendable considering how inexperienced they are plus they are playing with a pretty inexperienced team."
Not surprisingly, turnovers have become an issue, a fact the Bulldogs (9-6) are still trying to address entering Saturday's SEC opener against visiting Tennessee (noon).
In Georgia's five losses, the Bulldogs are averaging 21 turnovers, including 22 and 19 respectively in their most recent defeats at the hands of Missouri and Georgia Tech.
"The last couple of games we've received a lot of trapping, double-teaming pressure all over the court by our opponents which involves a lot more than the point guard, it involves the whole team," Felton said. "Our point guards have done a pretty solid job of taking care of the ball themselves. I think they had four turnovers against Georgia Tech, which isn't too bad. Our turnovers when they've been a problem, they've tended to be spread around."
In that regard, Swansey and Ware are holding their own.
In 15 games, Swansey has dished out 61 assists with just 31 turnovers, although that number is reversed against SEC opponents (25 assists, 28 turnovers). Ware comes in with 44 assists and 32 turnovers.
"They're not as creative as they will become as their experience mounts and they find their comfort level but both will become better creators," Felton said. "I have every confidence that they will."
However, Ware knows he and Swansey will likely be tested like never before by the visiting Vols (9-4).
"We've been watching a lot of film, trying to do what Coach says," Ware said. "We know we're not where we need to be, but I still see us getting better."
What a difference a year makes.
Last year, point guard was the last position on the team Felton had to worry about. Not with the ball in the capable hands of Gaines.
While the coach admits those have been big sneakers to fill, Felton doesn't believe the pressure of having to follow in Gaines' footsteps has been a factor for his young duo.
"I don't know if they're affected to what degree by dealing with any comparisons. I'm unaware of any comparisons," Felton said. "(Gaines) is never a topic of conversation around our team, we're just talking about our team as it is, the players that we have and what they can be doing."
That said, Felton is quick to acknowledge that Swansey and Ware will continue to have their work cut out for them.
"Regardless of (Gaines), point guard is always a challenging transition for all freshmen because there's an overwhelming amount of things to learn. Compared to your other positions, multiple that in upwards of five times because you're responsible for the other five players and what they're doing, their organization, their execution and you're supposed to know what they're doing and supposed to be," Felton said. " Plus, there's times when one of our young point guards calls a set and starts to enter into it without being aware of the fact all four of his teammates aren't in the right place yet and you shouldn't be getting into it yet until dummy over there gets to the other side of the floor. That's happened a number of times with our team this year. But that's totally been expected.'
According to Felton, it's not unusual to see young point guards struggle before eventually finding their way.
He's seen some of the best have trouble out of the gate, too.
"Remember when I was in the ACC and Stephan Marbury was a freshman at Georgia Tech and the first time we played Georgia Tech we beat them because of Stephan Marbury. He was such a weak spot for them that we probably beat them because of Marbury," Felton said. "They we played them again and it might have been the last game of the regular season and they beat us because of Marbury. When Marbury came out of high school he was arguably the No. 1 player in the country. That's how special was and we all know how special he continues to be from a talent standpoint. But we took advantage of him and won the game the first time around but by late in the season we had no answer for him. It's a difficult transition, even for the special ones."