ATLANTA - Following the shoot-around at the Georgia Dome in preparation for Thursday's first-round game in the SEC Tournament against Auburn, Georgia coach Mark Fox was asked what sets this year's Bulldog squad apart from other teams that he's coached.
His answer may surprise the novice UGA hoop fan.
"I really feel that every team is unique and the chemistry in the lockerroom is different. I think what I've really enjoyed about this team is that there has been a great unselfishness about them," Fox said. "I think every guy in our starting lineup has had 20 points at some point this year and not one time did I sense that one guy cared more about scoring than anything else. Not one time did I sense that a guy on our team was not trying to make the next guy better."
As the Bulldogs (20-10) get ready to face the Tigers (11-19) at 1 p.m. (SEC Network) in a game which could decide Georgia's post-season fate, Fox believes his team is ready to face whatever challenges that lie ahead.
That includes beating an Auburn squad that took the Bulldogs to overtime before falling 81-72 back on Feb. 5th in Athens.
"I thought we had great chemistry all year long," Fox said. "I've had other teams which were that way but what's been unique about this group is that these guys hadn't won as a unit before and for them to face as many challenges as turning a program around as they have. They've faced those head on and went into uncharted territory with a great deal of trust from the coaches and each other. That's really been a joy to experience."
To see Georgia sitting 10 games over .500 entering tournament play is not really that big of a surprise to most.
With four starters returning, including juniors Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie who decided to come back to Georgia instead of applying for the NBA draft, many figured the Bulldogs would have a chance to put together some impressive victory totals.
Players like Dustin Ware certainly thought so.
"I think the biggest thing is from Day One there was just a sense or a thought within us that we had a chance to be good," Ware said. "That let everybody really focus and work hard during the off-season, improve our weaknesses and get better where we needed to get better at. It helped us out a lot."
Ware conceded trying to live up to those expectations hasn't necessarily been easy.
"It was different. It was the first time any of us had been in that position, just because we've been a program where people haven't expected a lot from us," Ware said. "I felt we handled it real well this season. We were just determined to work hard each day, improve and win as many games as possible."
But will Georgia's ultimate goal of a trip to the NCAAs be realized?
A win over the Tigers would certainly help. Depending on which "expert" you believe, Georgia is either already assured a spot in the 68-team field or it needs to win at least one, perhaps two games to secure a spot.
Fox is taking nothing for granted.
"I think that the conference tournament is a new beginning for everybody. I think that for those teams in position to be in NCAA play that it's a season-long ride and has a much greater impact than a three or four game tournament," he said. "But if your body of work hasn't put you in position to be in postseason play, the late tournament gives you new life and everybody has a chance. I think it really refreshes your team and the mentality in your lockerroom. I know we've got a little extra bounce in our step this week and just because it's a new season."
Players seem to be buying what Fox is saying.
"We're a fighting team and we'll keep moving forward," Thompkins said. "We're happy to be here and we're going to compete like everybody else. We're going to give it our best shot.
Right now all we can control is wining this game tomorrow."
Ware laughed he's stopped trying to figure out against who and where the Bulldogs will be playing after the SEC Tourney wraps up Sunday.
"We tried to at first, but to be honest we just got tired of all the headaches of trying to figure it all out," Ware said. "So we just decided to put it in the rear view mirror for now and focus on playing hard and as well as we can."
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