Georgia coach Mark Fox says there's a lot to like about his 2012-2013 Bulldog basketball team.
For one, this season's squad features players who were all recruited by Fox and his staff, but more so than anything else, there appears to be enough experience and depth, something that certainly was not the case a year ago.
"We have more pieces this year, we're a deeper basketball team, we're more athletic, we're a more physical group, and certainly a more experienced group," Fox said Tuesday. "We'll miss the experience of Dustin Ware and Gerald Robinson, but they're really the only key pieces we lost off last year's team. We really have more guys who are ready for SEC play."
That list includes freshmen Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann, two players along with sophomore Kentavious Caldwell-Pope who is expected to make up the Bulldogs' backcourt following the graduation of Gerald Robinson and Dustin Ware.
Fox hopes the trio will help improve what was Georgia's big weakness from last year - perimeter shooting.
As a team, the Bulldogs finished last in the SEC in field goal percentage (.395) percent and 10th in 3-point percentage at .312.
"We didn't shot it well last year. As great a shooter as Dustin was in his career, last year was a tough year for him. He was kind of up and down," Fox said. "Shooting is an area that I think we're always going to be concerned about, no matter who is on our team. Shot selection is so paramount to your shooting percentage and I hope this year's team will be a little more disciplined in that area."
Georgia tips off preseason practice this Friday night with the first-ever "Basketbash" at Stegeman Coliseum. The event gets underway at 7 p.m. Admission is free.
The Bulldogs open their season on Nov. 9 against Jacksonville, following an exhibition game against Young Harris on Nov. 2.
When they do, the Bulldogs should be 100 percent.
That includes junior Marcus Thornton, who is coming off a pair of surgeries on his right knee.
"Marcus Thornton is right near 100 percent. He's been doing everything in our workouts, but we will continue to be very cautious with Marcus and he'll probably get very frustrated with me, but I'm going to make sure we proceed very slowly with him," Fox said. "He'll be cleared to practice and he's going to be ready to play. He's looked very good in our workouts but he's also a young man who has had two knee surgeries and he's got some tread on those tires. We've got to make sure we keep him fresh and rested, so there will be days when I may sit him on the side just to make sure he continues to stay healthy."
Of course, Caldwell-Pope figures to play a key role.
The sophomore led the Bulldogs in scoring with 13.2 points per game, and although he can be expected to do so again.
"When the scoreboard turns on when we start playing his personality changes. He cares about winning, he cares about playing hard and sometimes we have to slow him down," said Fox, who added that Caldwell-Pope can expect to see some time at the point. "Looking back at last year he had a lot of plays defensively where he picked up a foul or two when he did not control his motor, he was so aggressive."
Fox believes Georgia's front court will be deeper and stronger than last year as well.
"I think Donte (Williams) can play some at the five, some at the four. I think that John Florveus is so much stronger than he was last year, Tim Dixon had a great trip to Italy, John Cannon played well," Fox said. "I feel we've got four guys who can play that spot where it would allow us to move Donte down to the four. If we want to be athletic and quick, we could play Donte at the five, Marcus at the four and Nemi (Nemanja Djurisic) at the four. We just have a lot more options with this year's team."
NOTES: Regarding Georgia's non-conference schedule, which includes a trip to Brooklyn, N.Y. for the Legends Classic against Indiana and a contest against either UCLA or Georgetown, Fox said. "You don't sharpen your teeth by eating bread pudding."
Fox that Jay Rome will join the team in January once Georgia's football season is complete.