Trey Thompkins, Georgia's first all-conference player since 2003, returned to college this season rather than enter the NBA Draft. "I want to be known as a guy who helped the program do something great," he said of the decision.
Despite only the third unbeaten December for the program in the last 30 years, Georgia does not feel all that great heading into Saturday's Southeastern Conference opening-game showdown with routinely-doing-something-memorable Kentucky.
Coach Mark Fox, who made Georgia relevant again in his debut last season, sounded underwhelmed by the Bulldogs' 11-2 start this season.
"We've beaten some teams we're supposed to beat in that stretch," he said of the 7-0 December.
Never miss a local story.
Beating six teams with a losing record by a total of 26 points in November and December can dampen enthusiasm. Most notably, Georgia outlasted Mississippi Valley State (2-12) by two points, then nipped Manhattan (2-11) and Mercer (4-11) by three.
After beating Eastern Kentucky 64-57 on Dec. 31, Fox told reporters, "I feel lucky to get the win. If I don't start coaching better and we don't start playing better, we'll have a long 2011."
When asked Thursday if his long-2011 comment sprung from something he saw in the EKU game or a continuing trend, Fox said, "More of a trend."
The Georgia coach said "really, everything" gave him reason to pause. "We haven't defended consistently," he said. "We haven't rebounded consistently. We haven't been as good an offensive team as we're capable of. Therefore, I don't think I'm doing a good job coaching, if you can't be more complete than that."
The time for improved play is now, given Georgia's opening stretch of SEC games. After UK, the Bulldogs go to Vanderbilt and Mississippi, then return home to play Tennessee, Mississippi State and Florida. Then Georgia plays at Kentucky.
"We've been playing against teams maybe not as talented," said guard Gerald Robinson, a heralded transfer from Tennessee State.
Robinson, who averaged 12.2 points and a team-high 4.7 assists in non-conference play, acknowledged the "difficult transition" he'll face in league play.
"Especially playing against these teams night in and night out," he said. "It's different playing one (major opponent while at Tennessee State). Here I'll play one tonight, then I have to turn around and play against another one. ... I'm pretty sure the intensity is going to be pretty high with two big boys playing against each other."
The high ankle sprain Thompkins suffered in late October sidelined Georgia's best player for the first nine games.
"The day before he got hurt, he was a much better player than he was last year," Fox said. "It's been slow coming for him to return to last year's form. I think he's getting closer to that. The other night (against EKU) he looked like his old self."
Thompkins scored a season-high 26 points and grabbed a team-high seven rebounds against the Colonels. He also made one of two three-point shots, which might be most telling for a Georgia team that ranks last in the SEC in three-pointers made (4.2 per game) and three-point accuracy (30.9 percent).
Like several Georgia opponents, EKU used a zone defense to good effect.
"Part of our issue — and I'll take responsibility for it — is we were so focused on getting the ball inside," Fox said, "We didn't work for good three-point shots. But I think we're a better three-point shooting team than these numbers (suggest)."
A game against Kentucky, a sellout for weeks, seems rife with possibilities for Georgia. As John Calipari likes to say, it would be the Bulldogs' Super Bowl.
"We look at it not necessarily as the Super Bowl," Robinson said. "But we know we have a lot of important SEC games coming up. Kentucky is the first of many."
Added Fox, who grew up in Kansas, "The only Super Bowl I worry about is the one the Chiefs hopefully will be in in."
Jones on Wooden list
UK freshman forward Terrence Jones made the 30-man mid-season list for the John R. Wooden Award, organizers announced Thursday.
Jones was the only SEC player on the list. Kenneth Faried of Morehead State made the 30-man list.
The winner will be announced in April.