ATHENS — In what would be a blow to the Georgia men’s basketball team’s depth and experience, junior small forward Juwan Parker is still having trouble with his Achilles and may not be able to play in Friday’s season opener.
Parker will be a game-time decision on Friday, according to coach Mark Fox, as will freshman forward Derek Ogbeide, who hurt his shoulder earlier this week in practice.
Parker started 14 games last season before suffering an Achilles injury. He attempted to return several times, and played in four more games, including the SEC and NCAA tournament. But he admitted later that had Georgia not been in contention for the NCAAs he would have had surgery midseason.
And though Parker did have offseason surgery, and he played in Georgia’s exhibition game last Friday, the Achilles is still bothering him. He’s taken some days off from practice.
“Juwan has been kind of on the same rollercoaster that he’s been on the last couple months,” Fox said. “He’ll have a day or two where he feels better, then he’ll have some days where he has setbacks. Quite honestly Juwan Parker has not had a day without pain since pre-injury (in January). Obviously an Achilles injury is a tough one to come back from. We just take him day-by-day.”
While Parker only averaged 4.9 points per game last season, he was a good rebounder (3.7 per game) and seldom committed mistakes (1.2 turnovers per game, among the lowest rates on the team.) That was mostly while healthy, though, and Fox didn’t paint an optimistic picture about Parker’s ability to play fully in the near future.
“We know that issue, the tendon, will not have endurance back for quite some time,” Fox said. “So how much volume he an manage is really what we’re trying to find right now.”
Junior Kenny Paul Geno started at small forward in last week’s exhibition, but if Parker doesn’t play it will also mean more minutes for freshman E’Torrion Wilridge, and more three-guard lineups using some combination of Kenny Gaines, Charles Mann, J.J. Frazier and Turtle Jackson.
Ogbeide was Georgia’s leading rebounder in its exhibition game last Friday. He doesn’t need surgery, according to Fox, who added that he has “no idea” whether Ogbeide’s injury would keep him out past the opener.
“It all depends. Every injury will be dependent all year on what benchmarks they can meet in rehab,” Fox said. “If a guy has surgery we’re gonna be able to tell you, Hey a guy has surgery and isn’t playing. But we don’t have anybody in that situation.”
The injury news is especially worrisome considering the November schedule:
In a CBSsports.com projected NCAA bracket, Chattanooga and Georgia were both projected for the play-in round in Dayton. The Mocs return four starters from last year’s 22-win team.
The next two opponents should also be tough: Murray State was picked in a media poll to win the West Division of the Ohio Valley, High Point was picked to win the Big South conference in a media poll.
Then comes the only road game of the non-conference schedule, at Seton Hall, picked to finish seventh in the Big East.
“I don’t think there’s a cupcake on our schedule,” Fox said. “Every game is gonna be hard. Every one of them. That will prepare us for league play. That will give us the strength of schedule we need. That will also make it hard every night, and I’m fully aware that it will be hard every night.”
The good news for Georgia is that it still returns a number of experienced players, and several who dealt with injuries – Kenny Gaines (foot) and J.J. Frazier (face) among them – said they’re fine now. Plus, last season almost every key player missed at least one game, so this is all nothing new.
“Nothing can be worse than last year with all the injuries,” Frazier said. “At the end of the day it’s still a next-man-up mentality.”