The Bulldogs need all the help they can get, and as many as four of their five freshmen could contribute right away. Humphrey, a natural scorer, and Johnson, potentially a rebounding machine, have the best shot at early playing time because they fill huge needs. Woodbury will be the only big guard (6-6) on the team, and Mercer could start at the point. In a few years, watch out for Singleton, who once blocked 25 shots in a high school game.
To order your 2005 Athlon Sports annual and receive $1 off plus free shipping courtesy of SI.com, click here.
It's been clear for awhile that the Bulldogs are going to have a much different look in 2005-06. It was evident most weekday mornings this summer when the Bulldogs took to the track for conditioning drills. Last summer's group could have been mistaken for the cross country team, or maybe a high school soccer team. This year, they looks like a basketball team.
"For the first time, we'll have some depth of talent," third-year coach Dennis Felton says. "Now we can really start growing in earnest."
Last year, when Georgia posted its worst record since 1974 when it went 6-20, the Bulldogs had only seven scholarship players, just two of them taller than 6-8, and one of those was a walk-on center who has since left the team to concentrate on his drama major. This year, the Bulldogs will have 11 scholarship players, including three who top 6-8.
Everything will be different for the Bulldogs, starting in practice, where the starters will have somebody other than a glorified intramural team to scrimmage against.
"We'll be able to develop more as a team because we have more competition within our team now," Felton says.
That will carry over onto the floor when Felton can look to his bench for substitutions and find some reasonable alternatives to his starting five. Last year, the starters scored 86 percent of Georgia's points.
"Now we have some answers to turn to," Felton says.
Georgia needed the most help in the post, where 6-10 sophomore center Dave Bliss and 6-8 junior forward Steve Newman were overmatched most of last year. Freshmen Kendrick Johnson (6-10) and Rashaad Singleton (7-0) are playing the part of the cavalry this year. Singleton could be a year away from contributing much, but Johnson has a big body and should provide some much-needed rebounding help. Georgia was next-to-last in the league last year in rebounding margin (minus-3.9 per game).
Bliss could develop into a solid SEC player if he doesn't have to be the only weapon in the middle. He averaged 7.2 points and 5.4 rebounds last year and was the only regular to shoot better than 50 percent from the floor. Newman is more suited for a reserve role but started every game last year for the talent-starved Dawgs.
The wild card in Georgia's frontcourt will be sophomore Younes Idrissi, a 6-8 Moroccan who probably was the most athletic player on the team last year. If his body and skill developed as much during the offseason as they did during his first season in Athens, he could be a starter.
Felton's toughest decisions in terms of playing time will come in the backcourt, where veterans Levi Stukes, Sundiata Gaines and Channing Toney will have to hold off three talented freshmen. Gaines showed a lot of grit playing point guard last year, but he had just three more assists (78) than turnovers (75) last season. Heralded freshman Mike Mercer is a natural point guard and may be good enough to start right away. Stukes was the team's leading scorer last year (15.2 ppg), but both he and Toney were too inconsistent. Billy Humphrey was a proven scorer in high school (30.4 ppg) and the Bulldogs desperately need points, so watch out for him. Terrance Woodbury (6-6) will add size on the perimeter.
The Bulldogs have to be better than a year ago. They couldn't be much worse after finishing next-to-last or last in the SEC in scoring, scoring margin, field goal percentage, field goal percentage defense, 3-pointers made, 3-point field goal percentage, rebounding offense, rebounding defense, rebounding margin, assists and assist-to-turnover ratio.
"It'll be more fun," Felton says, "from the standpoint that we'll be able to make more progress than ever before."
There's uncertainty all around the league, so Georgia should be able improve on last year's 2-14 SEC record. But the Dawgs are still at least a year away from entertaining any NCAA Tournament thoughts. A .500 record and a trip to the NIT would be considered a major success.