Georgia has one of the best players in the SEC this year in Yante Maten. That was already known. The curiosity on first viewing of this season’s Bulldog team was what else they have, especially freshmen such as Rayshaun Hammonds and Nicolas Claxton.
There might be something there, at least from watching Georgia’s exhibition game on Thursday night at Stegeman Coliseum.
Maten led the way, dominating physically against smaller and overmatched Valdosta State, a Division II team. But the highly-touted freshman Hammonds was also impressive, and UGA may also have something in less highly-touted freshman guard Teshaun Hightower.
Georgia won the game easily, 112-74. Here are a few observations upon this reporter’s first viewing of the team:
- Maten, the senior forward, had 24 points and 10 rebounds in just 21 minutes, and probably could have scored on any possession he wanted.
- Hammonds looked good. He was perfect from the floor, making all seven of his shots to finish with 17 points and 10 rebounds. He scored on put-backs, a 3-pointer a dunk off a baseline drive, and a strong layup while being fouled. The only blemish was one missed free throw and a turnover. The physically-gifted Hammonds may not be able to dominate in that fashion against higher-level competition, but he showed good skill and effort in this game.
- Hightower, a three-star recruit, looks better than advertised. He played a lot of minutes at point guard and plays quick and confident, bringing a spark to the half-court offense by playing quick and confident. Upon entering the game for the first time Hightower drove the lane and then quickly fed Derek Ogbeide on the other side for a layup. Then Hightower nailed a 3 from the top of the key on the next possession. In the second half he had a pretty drive and layup that brought some oohs from the crowd. He finished the game with only six points, but was second on the team with five assists in just 15 minutes of action.
- Claxton has a smooth, left-handed stroke, and at 6-9 he can shoot over a lot of defenders, not just Division II players. J.J. Frazier tweeted during the game that “Nic won’t be there long,” hinting at a pro future. (Fox must have loved that.) But Claxton had a relatively quiet game, hitting one 3 but finishing with just five points in 17 minutes, including an 0-for-2 trip from the foul line. Claxton did have three assists.
- Sophomore guard Jordan Harris and junior power forward Mike Edwards did not play and Fox indicated that was a disciplinary decision: “They’re not doing what I asked them to do, so I didn’t play them. (They’re) just young. They both have bright futures. I’m sure they’ll be back soon.”
- Georgia can put a very long and athletic lineup on the floor, and Fox has embraced that in both public exhibition games: E’Torrion Wilridge (6-6) started at shooting guard, with a front line of Hammonds, Maten and Derek Ogbeide (all listed at 6-8). Then the wiry Claxton (6-11) came off the bench to play both forward spots.
- Fox said afterwards that going with the taller lineup was partly a byproduct of not having perimeter players available for as long: Senior Juwan Parker is being brought along slowly because of his Achilles injuries, so he only played 10 minutes, while Harris sat out. But Fox sounds intrigued with the idea of playing tall into the season: “This team has great versatility. One thing about it we could play like we started tonight and still cover groups that are playing three guards, because E’Torrion is long and mobile, and Rayshaun is long and mobile, and Yante is long and mobile. I think there will be times we do it quite a bit. We’re kind of doing it out of necessity because we’re trying to get reps at the point for everybody we’re trying there.”
- Georgia also played very up-tempo in this game, despite the bigger lineup. That’s an advantage of being tall but athletic, which Fox is banking on, apparently.
- Isaac Kante, the team’s other freshman, had five points and two rebounds in 12 minutes. He looked further off from the other rookies, but could get some time in the rotation.
- Turtle Jackson started and played a capable game at the point. He isn’t afraid to shoot, draining a couple first-half 3s. If he can become a consistent outside shooter that would be huge for this year’s team.
- For all the talk – especially from this reporter – that Tyree Crump needs to be aggressive shooting 3s, it may help when he’s just aggressive, period. His first shot was on a fast drive to the basket, drawing a foul. Crump came off the bench to play 18 minutes, finishing with 14 points, all but four of them in the second half.
- Fox on Crump: “He’s a great shooter, he’s got a knack to score. He’s playing two positions, and that’s a lot as a sophomore to try to manage both of those. But he’s doing OK. I think his shooting is a real asset to our team, and I think the further we get into the year the more comfortable he’ll get playing at a couple different places and the more comfortable he gets the more consistent he’ll shoot the ball.”
- Ogbeide, the team’s other returning starting post player, recovered from an uneven first half to finish with 17 points and eight rebounds in 22 minutes of action. Ogbeide missed some close shots in the first half but made all five of his shots in the second half.
- The main question for Georgia this year is probably outside shooting, and there was no clear answer off this one. The Bulldogs were 7-for-22 beyond the arc, with six different players hitting a 3. But Georgia shot nearly 70 percent fro inside the arc.