ATHENS — The game didn’t count, but it still drew a good crowd and offered some insight on this year’s Georgia men’s basketball team. The chief one being that this freshman class is very promising.
Georgia eased by Armstrong State, 59-41, as coach Mark Fox gave extended playing time to young players and experimented with lineups. Here are some observations after watching the game at Stegeman Coliseum:
– The turnout was very good. It helped that admission was free, it was a Friday night before a home football game, and Atlanta rapper K Camp was performing at halftime. But all in all I couldn’t remember a recent Georgia exhibition game that was more well-attended. About three-fourths of the bottom section was full, and there was some spillover in the upper deck too.
– Three starting spots were certain: Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines in the backcourt and Yante Maten in the post. The question was whether Fox would go with a freshman, or go small, or go veteran and conventional. Not surprisingly it was the latter: Kenny Paul Geno started at small forward and Houston Kessler at the other post spot.
But Derek Ogbeide and Mike Edwards checked into the game just over three minutes in. Turtle Jackson and E’torrion Wilridge checked in a minute later. And right away Jackson made a play, a steal and fast-break dunk. And then Wilridge made a3 from the corner.
And from there the four freshmen got extensive playing time, and on first glance they all offer some pretty good promise:
– Jackson (9 points, four rebounds and four assists) is too good and too poised not to play early this season, despite the experience Georgia returns in the backcourt. Jackson is leaner than Mann, but the same height. Jackson has a really good handle for his height, doesn’t look down as he dribbles. He’s long on defense, can hit the 3. He isn’t as good a slasher as Mann yet. But otherwise there’s not much of a drop-off rom Mann to Jackson at point guard.
– Wilridge (5 points and four rebounds) also offers something on both ends of the floor. He’s a long wingspan at 6-7, runs the floor well and hit a 3. He drove the baseline and threw down a two-handed dunk early in the second half. He only took two shots but made both of them.
– Ogbeide (4 points and 10 rebounds) looks and plays bigger than his listed 6-8, 225. He’s bulky, but also moved well around the basket when it came to rebounding. He also made a nice reverse left-handed lay-up in the second half.
– Edwards (11 points) is athletic as advertised, running the court well and making a couple up-and-under reverse layups. He also has a pretty good stroke at the free throw line. The question for him is how well he can handle physical play in the paint.
As for returning players:
– Gaines and Juwan Parker, each coming off injuries that affected them last season, played and didn’t seem limited. Gaines finished with six points and seven rebounds, but shot 1-for-8 from the floor. Parker had two points and six rebounds. That’s a lot of rebounds from guards.
– Maten, stepping into a bigger role this year, had a strong rebounding game, hauling down seven. He was quieter on the offensive end (seven points, only one on a field goal), but his minutes were less than they’ll be in normal games. Maten has a smooth free throw stroke. He made his first two, both with a shooter’s roll. He finished 5-for-6 from the line.
– J.J. Frazier didn’t play because of what Mark Fox said was a face injury after the game, per the Macon Telegraph, but should be ready for the opener.
– Osahen Iduwe (0 points and one rebound) looks more comfortable and has put on a bit of weight. He’s still probably a long way from playing extensive minutes or much scoring, but he could be serviceable in small stretches this season.
– Mann (10 points) had his normal game, getting six of his points at the free throw line.
– Geno made one basket, a 3 from the corner. He’s not going to pour in the points, but apparently Fox likes his defense, rebounding and passing. Still, look for Parker to grab that starting spot soon.
– Kessler had eight rebounds, though he missed all five field goal attempts. His ceiling quite obviously isn’t as high as Ogbeide and Edwards, but Kessler can provide some decent minutes.
– One worry for this team, and potentially a big one: Finishing around the basket. Maten and the other big men missed a lot of close shots. That may be an area the team misses Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic. The missed close shots accounted for most of the reason Georgia’s shooting percentage was so low (32 percent.)
Final thought: The freshmen won’t play as much next week when the games start counting. At least not right away. But they look like they’re good enough to be very helpful as the season goes on, making this a deeper and more athletic team.