November 13, 2008

Dawgs ready for opener

Dennis Felton has been coaching basketball for a lot of years - 24 years to be exact.

But he still gets very exciting with the knowledge that the season is about to begin. This year is no exception.

Felton's Georgia Bulldogs tip off their 2008-2009 campaign Friday night against visiting USC-Upstate, and this year, like any, is one he can't wait to get underway.

"It's not so much the opener, it's just the season. The season is here. The opener is just one game and the games come at you in a tidal wave once the season starts. Once you're playing anywhere from two to four games in a week it's a bear," Felton said. "That first one can be more difficult to prepare for because you have no real game experience under your belt, but also it's easier to prepare for because you have time and days to put into it and when you get going you might only have one or two days to prepare. It just keeps coming."

Felton isn't kidding.

After Friday's 7:30 contest, his young Bulldogs will hit the road next week to West Lafayette, Ind. for the opening round of the Dick's Sporting Goods NIT were Georgia will play Loyola-Chicago, followed by a second-round game against either Eastern Michigan or Purdue.

Following a home game Nov. 21 against Presbyterian, the Bulldogs play two more contests against two yet-do-be determined opponents in the NIT, part of a 12-game stretch that will carry Georgia through the end of December.

Included in that group are games at Western Kentucky (Dec. 2) and Illinois (at Chicago, Dec. 6) which precede a home contest against Virginia Tech (Dec. 9) at Stegeman Coliseum.

The Bulldogs then start the New Year off with a home game against Missouri (Jan. 3) and a road game at Georgia Tech (Jan. 6) before tipping off SEC play against Tennessee on Jan. 10.

Felton hopes to have a good idea by then of how his defending SEC Tournament Champions will gel, but admits with so many new faces that may actually take a while.

"I just know one thing, there's not going to be a day that goes by where we don't work about tightening up. We're always working on our identity and what kind of team we want to be but there's no doubt you learn about players as you go along and you learn about teams," Felton said. "But I really I really like this group. This is a really, really fun group because they are all really, really good guys. They all are very earnest in their effort and getting better and playing for each other."

The Bulldogs just need to avoid injuries.

Georgia received a scare during its exhibition win against Albany State when starting center Albert Jackson had to be helped off the court with an injured ankle. Fortunately, the news appears to be much better than it initially appeared that it would.

"He got involved with practice (Tuesday) and he's improving. He's doing certainly as well as can be expected. He's had a very, very optimistic view of it once he got past the first 30 minutes or so and he's shown some real toughness to take the attitude that he has," Felton said. "He pretty much decided before he left the lockerroom (after the Albany State game) that night that he wasn't going to miss a game and his behavior is putting him into a position that he might be able to play."

That's certainly good news.

Sophomores Jeremy Price and Chris Barnes are currently the only low-post players at Felton's disposal and any more injuries to Georgia's frontline would indeed prove detrimental for the rest of the year.

"With him (Jackson) out we're down to only two front court players and we don't want that," Felton said. "It's already making it tough for us in practice because we're down to three front-court players and if you take him away from games you're down to two front court players. We can't afford all these injuries we're having."

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