ATHENS – Juwan Parker made for a bit of a wistful sight on Thursday, dribbling shooting in the Georgia basketball team’s otherwise empty practice gym. Dribbling and shooting, but not running. An injury prevents that, and has prevented the junior, who started when healthy last year, from playing at all this year.
Mark Fox didn’t come to Thursday’s media session intending to mention the absence of Parker, or the other critical injury his team had earlier this year. Actually, it was clear that Fox came ready to light a fire under his trio of veteran guards: Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines and J.J. Frazier.
“They have to make better decisions than they’re making right now,” Fox said, mainly meaning shot selection. “I haven’t been pleased. I haven’t pleased with the consistency in that area. We’ve had some good nights. We just haven’t been as consistent in that area. We’ve gotta push for improvement.”
That all may be true. But in reality the disappointment of this season doesn’t rest solely with them.
Those doing a post-mortem on this team (14-10 overall, 7-6 in the SEC) — a post-mortem which could still be premature, with five regular-season games and the SEC tournament left to go — may center on Gaines and Mann, the two seniors who haven’t significantly increased their scoring output. Mann has actually gone down.
But the reality is the two seniors and Frazier are still combining for 39.1 points per game and basically all of the team’s 3-point shooting. The big problem remains that outside of those three and leading scorer and rebounder Yante Maten, the Bulldogs haven’t had much. For a team that has now lost five of those games by a combined 13 points (by one at Ole Miss, by two to Kansas State and Chattanooga, and by four to Florida and LSU), that would have made a big difference.
Georgia was hurt more than expected by the losses of starting forwards Marcus Thornton and Nemi Djurisic, as well as reserve forward Cameron Forte, then the unexpected injury to Parker, who had offseason surgery after missing half of last season with an Achilles injury.
Parker wasn’t much off a scorer, but he was the consummate glue player, a good passer, good defender and rebounder. It was why he started the first 14 games last season.
“The guy that we miss the most is Juwan Parker,” Fox said, repeating the sentence one time for emphasis. “I think Derek (Ogbeide) has been able to give Nemi’s rebounding, for instance. We maybe haven’t been able to replace what Yante gave us off the bench up front last year. But the guy that we could really use right now is Juwan Parker. Because the experience and the versatility on the perimeter, he would really give us a major boost. He would give us some depth and experience that was much-needed.”
A full season from Ogbeide — who’s proving to be a rebounding monster — would have been helpful too. Instead he missed the first month of the season with a shoulder injury. He’s now starting but still struggling to get comfortable on offense, leaving Georgia with still essentially just four good scoring options.
As Fox mentioned, Thornton’s production was replaced and perhaps surpassed by Maten. But Diurisic’s ability as a stretch 4, increasingly important role in basketball, was not.
Kentucky assistant coach John Robic touched on that last week, not in a critical way, but just analyzing it.
“I think the difference this year, on this year’s team, as opposed to the last couple years, is that they don’t have that four-man that could step out like Djurisic last year, that was a threat from 3,” Robic said. “So the ball’s in the hands of their guards a lot.”
And hence there has been so much pressure on those guards.
Parker wouldn’t have helped the void in the 4. But he would have allowed Fox to play a one-in and four-out, which he’s done at times with Kenny Paul Geno. And Parker could have also provided valuable minutes at the 3 and taken some pressure off Mann, Gaines and Frazier.
Instead, the pressure is on all three as Georgia goes to Vanderbilt on Saturday, seeking to find answers.
Last year Georgia won at Vanderbilt, spurring an early-season run. A similar one will be needed to salvage this season.
“Oh every game’s important,” Fox said Thursday. “We’ve tried to emphasize that all year. We’ll find out if they were listening to that.”
“We’re gonna find out,” Fox said.