ATHENS — As this season drew to a close, Yante Maten was asked last week if he found himself thinking about what next season could be like.
“Yeah I definitely have,” Maten said. “I’ve seen glimpses of greatness from a lot of our freshmen, if not all of them. I think about it quite often, how it’s going to be good for us next year. But I’m also aware that we’re not in next year yet.”
They are now, after Sunday’s loss at Saint Mary’s in the second round of the NIT. As the attention now fully turns to the 2016-17 campaign, here are the five major questions at the forefront right now:
1. Juwan Parker’s status
Parker sat out this entire season with a nagging Achilles injury, which also caused him to miss half of the previous season, when he started 14 games. If healthy, Parker could be a critical piece for the Bulldogs, a small forward and “glue guy” who passes, rebounds and defends well, and chips in with some scoring.
But will Parker be healthy? He’s also graduated, so if he wanted to transfer somewhere and play right away that’s an option as well. The most recent indications are that Parker wants to stay, which would be very good news for the Bulldogs.
2. Another piece or two?
It was fairly notable that Mark Fox, in the head coach’s postgame radio interview Sunday, said “we will” sign someone else. In the past he’s hedged a bit, so the Bulldogs could be close on someone, or Fox is determined to do so.
Two signees are already in the fold, and they’re highly regarded: Guard Tyree Crump, a 6-3 talent out of Bainbridge, is a consensus top 100 national recruit. One person who’s seen him play called him “a baller,” with the scoring ability to step into Kenny Gaines’ role. The other is 6-5 shooting guard/small forward Jordan Harris of Seminole County, who’s also rated in some top 100 lists.
Both were recruited by associated head coach Philip Pearson.
Right now Georgia has one scholarship open, which would change if someone else leaves. One player known to be on the team’s radar screen is Pape Diatta, a 6-7 junior college prospect who has slashing ability, but could also be a stretch-4 (as in a power forward who can step outside to shoot 3s.)
3. Non-conference Schedule
After a non-conference schedule dominated by home games, Georgia will be going on the road a bunch more next season: There are return trips set for Clemson, Georgia Tech and Oakland (Mich), as well as the CBE Classic, when Georgia will play two games in Kansas City against some combination of Kansas, George Washington or UAB.
Playing in the exempt tournament will allow Georgia to up to 31 total regular-season games next year, counting the 18-game SEC schedule. The Bulldogs only played 29 games this season.
4. Building a supporting cast
Maten and J.J. Frazier could be a very potent inside-outside duo next season. They were the team’s two leading scorers this season. There’s also Derek Ogbeide, who looks like a rebounding machine and started showing good touch around the basket as the season ended.
But who will contribute around them? A big problem this year is that outside of the top four — Frazier, Maten, Gaines and Mann — Georgia couldn’t really depend on anyone else. Now two of those four are gone.
Turtle Jackson, a four-star recruit last year, hardly played for most of the season, but saw action in the final two weeks. He has speed, slashing ability and some outside shooting skills. The question is how much Jackson and Frazier, both natural point guards, can play together.
Crump and Harris will likely be depended on for some scoring punch right away. The team will also hope that E’Torrion Wilridge, who showed flashes as a freshman, can contribute more.
“We’ll definitely need them next year,” Maten said. “They’re not young kids anymore. It’s time to mature, develop and come into their own. Which I think many of them showed in the Kentucky game. Not just the Kentucky game, the whole SEC tournament.”
5. How will Fox play?
During its last nine games, its season on the brink, Georgia played faster and shot quicker, the result being an average of 75.2 points per game, 10 points more than it averaged before that.
Fox also showed the liberal subbing policy against Kentucky in the SEC tournament, and briefly used it again on Sunday. He has said he only did that because of conditions, but did it intrigue him enough to carry into next season.
The up-tempo style would seem to suit Jackson well if he’s playing a lot. It certainly does Frazier, and the core group of big men — Maten, Ogbeide, Mike Edwards — should also be able to run.
Whenever Fox holds his postseason press conference — likely sometime this week — it will be something worth asking.