March 1, 2011

Price, Barnes play final home game

Both Chris Barnes and Jeremy Price admit there was a time not very long ago where they wondered if Wednesday night's game against LSU would ever come, at least, not in Stegeman Coliseum.

When former coach Dennis Felton was let go just over two years ago, both players admitted Tuesday, there was a period of time where they wondered if a transfer to another school might be in their respective best interest.

But after getting to know head coach Mark Fox, the two did what three of their other classmates elected not to do - stay in Athens.

It's a decision neither player says they regret.

"It crossed my mind to leave because I chose to come here with Coach Felton. At the time, you never knew if the new team coach was going to like you or if he was going to keep you," Barnes said. "So yeah, it passed through my mind to leave and try to find somewhere new, but I decided to stay and stick it out with Coach Fox. I had a good feeling about him. It was a big step for me to stay here, but I'm glad I took that chance."

So is Price, who has started 27 of the 28 games for Georgia (19-9, 8-6) heading into their contest against the Tigers (11-18, 3-11) set to tip off Wednesday at 8:04 p.m. on the SEC Network.

"Me and Chris both talked about it (transferring) when Coach (Felton) left, it crossed a lot of players' minds," Price said. "But once we found out who the new coach was going to be, we got to know him and became more comfortable about staying."

Granted, there were some personal bumps along the way.

Both quickly had to learn that playing for Fox was going to be much different than playing under Felton, complete with different expectations, both on the court and how each would be expected to carry themselves off it.

"I haven't been with them their whole career, but in two years they have matured a great deal and they have been a real joy to coach. They both have very magnetic smiles and great personalities. I love seeing them every day. I have a lot of fun with those guys," Fox said. "It doesn't mean we didn't fight for probably the first six months we were here, but they've grown a great deal. Both will leave with degrees in a couple of months and both have made a real impact on this program. I think they take great pride in what they've been able to do."

Neither player will argue with that.

As freshmen, both Price and Barnes were part of the Bulldog squad that shocked the entire league by winning the SEC Tournament in Atlanta to earn the team's last trip to the NCAA's.

But after the team's magical run, the following campaign quickly turned sour, leading to the dismissal of Felton and the eventual hiring of Fox, who in his first year as the Georgia coach led the Bulldogs to a 14-17 mark, including a series of victories against several ranked teams (Georgia Tech, Florida among them).

Coming into Wednesday's game against LSU, Barnes and Price have a chance to accomplish a feat not done since Tubby Smith's 1996-1997 squad - win 20 regular-season games.

Ron Jirsa's 1997-1998 Bulldog team also won 20 games, but four of those victories came in postseason play, including the SEC Tourney and the NIT.

"It would be a milestone victory, certainly to get a 20-win season," Fox said. "It would be important to us because we've showed progress, we've showed improvement. It is one game at a time for us but another win would mean No. 20."

Barnes tried to put it all in perspective.

"It's (their last home game) something me and J.P. have been talking about for the past month. It's been on my mind for a lot. We knew it had to come to an end. We've had a great run here at Georgia, we've had some good times and we've had some bad times," Barnes said. "When we all came here as freshmen, we all talked about who was going to turn the program around. For me and J.P. to be here, and be the only ones left, it feels good to see Georgia basketball be back on the rise and know that we had a part in it."

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