ATHENS — Kenny Gaines was asked this week what would be considered a good year for his Georgia men’s basketball team. Going further in the NCAA tournament, sure. Maybe winning more games overall, yeah that could be another.
Then Gaines smiled and added one more.
“Avoiding injuries,” he said. “That would be a great win.”
Gaines would know. In a season where Georgia lost six players at different points for a total of 32 games, Gaines was the final and perhaps most important. His left foot injury became a main storyline last year as Georgia tried to make the NCAA tournament, and then tried to win a game there.
Gaines, the team’s second-leading scorer, gutted his way through some late-season games, including an SEC quarterfinal win over South Carolina, then sat out the semifinal loss to Arkansas, then played through played through pain – 9.3 on a 1-to-10 scale, he said – as Georgia fell in the NCAA tournament first round to Michigan State, an eventual Final Four team.
When the game ended, Gaines faced a choice: Have surgery or let it heal on its own. He opted for the latter, worried that the recovery would have been longer.
A.J. Turman, the tailback on the football team, had the same injury and had surgery, but recommended to Gaines that he go the other route.
“Surgery is just adding another whole element to recovery. So if your body can naturally fix it, then try to go that route,” Gaines said, summing up Turman’s advice.
The decision has paid off, Gaines said Wednesday, saying his left foot feels fine, and he’s not expected to be limited at all when Georgia begins practice next week. (The season officially starts on Nov. 13 against Chattanooga.)
“It’s been a long journey, definitely a learning lesson, to not get injured. Need to drink a little more milk,” Gaines said, laughing.
Gaines isn’t the only Bulldog coming off an injury. Junior guard Juwan Parker, who started 14 games, missed half of last season with an Achilles injury. He did opt for surgery, and in fact would have had it midseason if Georgia wasn’t in the midst of trying to make the NCAAs for the first time since 2011.
Both players are cleared for practice now, as are all players, coach Mark Fox said. In the case of Gaines and Parker, the two will still be dealt with cautiously at the outset of practice.
“We just couldn’t afford a setback with either of them. So we’re still trying to get endurance back,” Fox said.
Georgia only loses two starters off a team that went 21-12 and for the second straight season finished tied for second in the SEC. But those two starters (Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic) were the two best post players, and Thornton was the leading scorer and rebounder.
“We’ll use last season as lessons in how to play and how to win. But it really will have no impact on how we perform this year,” Fox said. “This is a new team, everyone is in a new role, and we have to start from ground zero. But we’ll use the lessons of the past, hopefully to their advantage.”