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12. Georgia
Seth Davis
November 23, 1998
In Athens they're talking of dethroning SEC king Kentucky, and thanks to one super sophomore, they very well might
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November 23, 1998

12. Georgia

In Athens they're talking of dethroning SEC king Kentucky, and thanks to one super sophomore, they very well might

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SF Michael Chadwick#



8.7 ppg

PF Jumaine Jones#



14.7 ppg

C Eric DeYoung



2.7 rpg*

SG Ray Harrison#



11.9 ppg

PG G.G. Smith#



13.5 ppg

'97-98 record: 20-15
Final rank (coaches' poll): unranked
#Returning starter
*'96-97 rpg (redshirt in '97-98)

Ron Jirsa is thumbing through a stack of faxes and letters of encouragement he received last year, his first as the Bulldogs' coach. As Jirsa reads aloud sundry platitudes and Biblical proverbs, he concedes that his mountain of missives does not represent a full accounting of the correspondence that landed on his desk. "I only keep the good stuff," he says.

He recalls one particularly nasty letter he received last January, when the Bulldogs were in the midst of a five-game losing streak. "Man, it was horrible," says Jirsa, who had been given the top job the previous May when Tubby Smith left to coach Kentucky. "A few days later I got another one from the same guy, and I told my assistant, 'Sandi, don't even give me these. They're too tough.' "

The Bulldogs would recover from their sluggish start to reach the semifinals of the NIT. With four starters back from that team, including Smith's son G.G., a talented senior point guard, and Jumaine Jones, one of the nation's top freshmen a year ago, Georgia enters the season as the leading candidate to end Kentucky's stranglehold on the SEC crown.

How formidable a threat the Dawgs will be to the 'Cats depends largely on Jones. Displaying power and athleticism reminiscent of early '80s Georgia star Dominique Wilkins, the 6'7" forward last season became the first freshman since 1984-85 to lead the Bulldogs in scoring (14.7 points per game) and rebounding (8.5). After playing for the U.S. team in the Goodwill Games, where he improved his outside shooting touch, Jones should be a more potent offensive weapon this year.

His teammates, though, must assume a greater offensive role. Centers Robb Dryden and Eric DeYoung, both 7-footers, need to relieve Jones of some of the inside-scoring burden he shouldered a year ago. Smith is a much-improved shooter, but with Adrian Jones out for the year with a broken bone in his right foot, there isn't much backcourt depth.

Having survived his first year as head coach, Jirsa is optimistic as he begins the new season. "The second time around is always easier," he says. If it's not, Sandi, remember: Only the good stuff.

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]