Big expectations, low pressure for UGA freshman Rayshaun Hammonds

Rayshaun Hammonds - UGA basketball
Rayshaun Hammonds comes to Georgia with high expectations but low pressure because Georgia return nine of its 10 top scorers.

ATHENS – There are the arm muscles. There are the broad shoulders. He’s the whole package. Rayshaun Hammonds need not be on a basketball court to make a good first impression. He just needs to be sitting on a stool.

“Sheer size,” answers Georgia senior Juwan Parker, when asked what stood out to him about his new teammate. “To have that length and girth about him … he’s a big kid.”

So Hammonds looks every bit the program-listed height (6-foot-8) and weight (225 pounds). Now the question is whether he’s every bit the recruiting hype.

Hammonds is the highest-rated Georgia basketball recruit since Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who went on to be the SEC Player of the Year in 2013 and an NBA lottery pick. If you go by the ratings, KCP was Mark Fox’s best recruit, and Hammonds is second.

But the pressure greeting the two is very different.

Caldwell-Pope walked into a program that had lost the core of its team, including two players (Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie) who jumped early to the NBA. Trying valiantly to carry the team for two years, Caldwell-Pope endured two losing seasons.

Hammonds, on the other hand, joins a program that saw Yante Maten pass on the NBA draft to return for his senior year, and returns nine of its 10 leading scorers.

Unlike with Caldwell-Pope, there’s no sense that Hammonds has to be a program savior. He doesn’t have to walk in and carry the team right away.

“Not at all,” Hammonds said. “What I really can say is I came in with the upperclassmen and they just helped me out. I’m not coming in and trying to take over anything. I’m just trying to do my part on the team, let the game come to me at all times.”

That doesn’t mean Hammonds won’t make a big impact.

Hammonds was the lone freshman in the starting lineup when Georgia played at No. 2 Michigan State in an exhibition game last Sunday. The Bulldogs play another exhibition game Thursday night against Valdosta State, at Stegeman Coliseum, and Hammonds’ talents will be further on display.

He was able to dominate physically at Norcross (Ga.) High, averaging a double-double as a senior and junior, taking advantage of his size advantage to make easy layups, and running the court well and hitting some outside shots.

But Hammonds knows he can’t do that anymore.

“I know I can’t just go under the basket and score on anybody I want to,” Hammonds said.

Parker, from what he has seen, said there’s no need to worry about the ballyhooed freshman making a good adjustment.

“He’s talented. He can shoot the ball, he can get to the rim,” Parker said. “He’s left-handed, which always gives you a slight advantage for whatever reason on the court. That will help him immensely and translate to the SEC game. He comes in to work every day. He’s there mentally and he’s definitely there physically. So he’ll be fine.”

Hammonds’ college decision came down to Georgia, Memphis and Texas. He gave Fox a big recruiting win and attributed it to his fandom. Hammonds started following the program during the 2008 SEC Tournament title run.

“Ever since I was a little kid I’ve been loving Georgia basketball,” Hammonds said. “It’s just always been there for me.”

Now he can give back. But it doesn’t have to be right away.

“I’m sure he puts pressure on himself because that’s just the type of kid he is. He wants to be great,” Parker said. “But there’s no pressure. I think we’re at a good place at Georgia basketball. Obviously, we’re ready to get to that next level but it’s not all on his shoulders to get us there.”

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