Saturday, September 6, 2008

No Athletic Department, No Problem for Vandy Basketball

Five years ago this week, then Vanderbilt University President, Gordon Gee, announced that he was disbanding the athletic department.

Although many were concerned about how Vandy would compete, the basketball program got better and better.

Vandy went:

20 and 14 for 2004/2005 and made it to the quarterfinals of the NIT
17 and 13 for 2005/2006 and played in the NIT.
22 and 12 for 2006/2007 and made it to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.
26 and 8 for the 2007/2008 season, and lost in the NCAA Tournament's first round.

According to one source, Vanderbilt head coach Kevin Stallings was the 10th highest paid coach in college basketball for the 2007/2008 season.

Meanwhile, Vanderbilt has new players coming in to compete this season, and they are very, very capable. Best recruiting class that I remember.

I wouldn't recommend disbanding the athletic department for every school, and neither does former Vandy president, Gordon Gee. But Vanderbilt is showing that you can have academics and high levels of competition in the arena of college sports. I believe this gives promise for coaches like Dennis Felton, who are pushing the academic side of student-athlete life.

Bruce Pearl on Incoming Freshmen

Pearl calls his freshmen his best signing class ever. That means, "watch out, SEC."

Cameron Tatum is a guy who will help him this year. I know the focus is on Scotty Hopson, but Tatum might be just as good. As a redshirt freshman, Tatum has not played in the SEC before, so Pearl will have plenty of new weapons to use this year.

And Hopson can score the basketball. Negedu might be a guy utilized like Tyler Smith. If his point guard play is where he needs it to be, Pearl will be able to utilize his full-court pressure system, and rotate players in and out of the line-up.

Pearl apparently has some skill as a speaker, too.

I expect UT to win the SEC this year, despite the loss of Lofton and Smith.


ESPN Shootaround

The Shootaround gives a chance for several of ESPN's analysts to opine about basketball and the performance of the teams in the particular conference being reviewed.

ESPN on the SEC

Andy Katz isn't impressed with the SEC. He expects Tennessee to be the only SEC team in the top 25. And he ranks UT down at #17.

I respectfully disagree. UT could win it all this year. They're that good. They remind me of UCLA, in terms of the potential of this team. No dominant post player, but enough athletes to out-perform just about everybody else.

Besides that, the SEC East will be better than Katz expects. If Florida's big men produce, they will be improved from last season, in which they won over 20 games. UK may end up in the top 25. And Vanderbilt has upgraded their talent in the post. No Shan Foster, but they will have a solid rotation of big guys.

Chris Low suggests that UGA could compete for the top of the SEC East. That's a surprise. Most analysts think UGA will be rebuilding due to the graduation of Sundiata Gaines and Dave Bliss. A surprise, but I like it.

Joe Lunardi anticipates that the SEC could get 6 teams into the NCAA Tournament. That sounds about right. No tournament berth expected for UGA.

All in all, I like ESPN's work here. They're helping keep an eye on college basketball just as football is getting heated up. That's no small task. But this is the time in which basketball training is being done in earnest, when strength and conditioning is taking place, and guys are gearing up to compete.

I think the SEC will get better and better this year. UT, UF, Georgia, Vandy and Kentucky are all making moves. The SEC West doesn't look that great, so we'll have to see how that goes. If Tony Mitchell gets in school, I expect Alabama to be right there and possibly win the SEC West.


Friday, September 5, 2008

Joey Waldrop Still Involved with the Arts

Joey Waldrop came to UGA in the fall of 2003 after graduating from Newnan High School. At 7 feet tall, approximately 350 pounds (he had been up to 410 pounds at one point), and with a size 21 shoe, Waldrop was the biggest player on Coach Felton's roster.

Waldrop joined the team as a walk-on and worked hard to lose weight, improve his conditioning and grow in ability as a basketball player. By his sophomore year, Waldrop had dropped 50 pounds.

Due to the fact that Waldrop temporarily lost his Hope Scholarship, Coach Felton placed Waldrop on an athletic scholarship. Waldrop competed hard on the court and became a favorite of many fans. He averaged less than a point per game during his freshman year, but he did have a few blocked shots and rebounds.

When Waldrop was not involved in sports or with other coursework, he focused in on his love of the theatre. A drama major, Waldrop appeared in a number of school productions.

After leaving Georgia, although Waldrop did not remain involved in sports, he did continue to pursue opportunities in the arts. Joey rejoined Offshoot Productions, a theater company in Peachtree City. Waldrop is still involved with the company and Dawg fans south of Atlanta may see him in a role in the future at one of Offshoot's theatrical performances.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Poll Resuts Regarding Recruitment of Shannon and Favors

It was time to go with a new Poll, so I pulled down the old one on the recruiting visit of Terrance Shannon and Derrick Favors.

As readers of this Blog know, Derrick Favors and Terrance Shannon came to UGA on a recruiting visit on August 30, 2008. Shannon and Favors took in the UGA vs Georgia Southern football game. I understand that Demario Mayfield was also present for the visit.

In view of the biggest recruiting weekend of the new season, I polled readers of the Blog to get their opinion on whether UGA could pull in either or both of Shannon and Favors. The result?

In case you missed it, half (50%) of the participants indicated that UGA wouldn't successfully recruit either player. One quarter (25%) said that UGA would sign one but not both. The remaining 25% said that UGA would get both Shannon and Favors.

Shortly after putting up the poll, Daniel Miller committed. As a result, I started to change my vote, but opted against it. The purpose of the poll was to see how well each one of us could predict what would likely happen, or at least to have some fun making a prediction.

So, can we successfully recruit either or both of these guys? ESPN seems to believe that Miller's commitment should help UGA with recruiting. I'm not sure. I am still hopeful. Let's find a way to bring both of these guys to Athens and keep Georgia's best high school talent playing for the states flagship university.

Dominique Wilkins Interview

Hoops World has a great interview with former UGA player, Dominique Wilkins.

Wilkins speaks on the state of the Atlanta Hawks going into the new season, his friendship with Barack Obama, and other matters.


You can access the first part of his interview by clicking on the link toward the beginning of the article.

Swansey's Picture from ASHF Induction Ceremony

Somewhat dated, but I thought it was worthy of posting in view of the recent poll on the "Favorite Felton Buzzer Beaters."

Almost half of the readers of this Blog who participated voted for Swansey's turn-around three-point jumpshot as their favorite buzzer beater. Well, the panelists with the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame (ASHF) seem to agree.

On May 31, 2008, Zac Swansey was honored by the ASHF. Swansey received recognition for the "play of the year," when he hit the three to lead UGA to victory over Kentucky.

The induction ceremony was held at Emory's Conference Center. It was great for Swansey to be included in the event held to honor several of Atlanta's sports greats, such as Steve Bartkowski and Claude Humphrey.


Now, Georgia will need some big plays from Swansey this year, so here's hoping he's got some heroics left for the rest of his playing career.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sundiata Gaines Gets Coverage in Italian Press

"The player who will guide Pallacanestro Cantu in its next season is named Sundiata Kofi (Yatta) Gaines."

The article (in Italian) goes on to talk about Gaines' career at Georgia, his role as the undisputed leader of the team, and his averages in points, rebounds, assists and steals.

Gaines notes that it is an honor for him to play for Cantu in Italy and he looks forward to competing for the championship, adding that he "loves to win and hates to lose."


Sundiata Gaines has always been a competitor, and he will surely give the Pallacanestro Cantu team the same grit and determination and all-around game that Georgia fans have enjoyed for the last 4 years.

ESPN Bullish on Miller

Bob Gibbons is really high on Daniel Miller. Quoted in an ESPN article published yesterday, Gibbons said the following:

"Miller is a highly skilled back to the basket player and has excellent scoring skills in the paint,..."

ESPN rated Miller as the #90-ranked player in the 2009 ESPN Top 100 high school players.

ESPN on Miller

Gibbons believes that getting Miller's commitment actually helps Georgia in recruiting Derrick Favors, since having Miller as a true center means that Favors would be slotted as a power forward in the 2009 recruiting class.

I want to be really excited about recruiting and maybe, just maybe, things are starting to come together.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Levi Stukes Playing in Uruguay

Levi Jamal Stukes was born on November 18, 1984. Stukes came up enjoying the game of basketball, and though he topped out at 6' 2", Stukes became a prolific scorer at the shooting guard position.

During his sophomore year at Randallstown High in Randallstown, Maryland, Stukes averaged 17 points per game. The next year, Stukes increased his average to 28 points per game, 8 rebounds and 5 assists. Stukes scored 24 pts, with 7 boards and 7 assists, his senior year. Stukes was a two-time All Metro selection for the Baltimore area, and was twice named the Baltimore County Player of The Year.

In 2003, newly hired Georgia coach Dennis Felton came aboard after former coach, Jim Harrick, resigned. Although Harrick had a signing class already in place (Cassiano Matheus, Jordan Howell, Mohammed Abukar, and Marcus Jackson), due to the change in leadership, Felton allowed these players to receive a release from their signatures with Georgia.

Felton worked quickly to get a new group signed. He brought on Marcus Sykes, Steve Newman, Corey Gibbs and Levi Stukes. Felton spotted Stukes playing in the AAU circuit, and he made a scholarship offer to Stukes. Stukes chose Georgia, in part because of the amount of playing time available.

Stukes played well enough in practice to be named the lone freshman (with 4 seniors) on Georgia's 2003/2004 starting five. During that year, Stukes did well, and Georgia upset University of Kentucky twice during the regular season, and beat then #3 ranked Georgia Tech.

The next year was difficult for Stukes and the University of Georgia basketball team. Because of the lack of players that had been admitted to school during Harrick's recruiting classes, Georgia had 4 sophomores and 7 freshmen on the roster, but only 4 of the freshmen were scholarship players. Georgia ended up going 8 and 20 for the 2004/2005 athletic year.

Stukes continued to play well, however. As Georgia built its roster, Stukes played with defensive intensity and honed his three-point shooting. Stukes ended his career with Georgia as the all-time leader in 3-pts made (261) and attempted (683), and was the 12th all-time in scoring, with 1,383 points.

Stukes is playing now in the professional league in Uruguay. He signed with Club Trouville in July of 2008. Stukes has continued his scoring tendencies, putting in 24 points in Trouville's last game.

Dawg fans wish Stukes much success in his professional career.

Daniel Miller Commits to Georgia: Comments and Questions

Daniel Miller, a 6' 10" senior at Loganville Christian, has committed to the Georgia Bulldogs.


Welcome! Glad to have him. He's a guy that came to Dennis Felton's camp and performed well enough to earn a scholarship offer. Has great grades. Large frame that could add more height and muscle over the next 3 to 4 years. Good fundamentals.

With that said, I have a ton of questions:

1. How does his commitment affect the recruiting process for Favors and Shannon?

2. How many scholarships does Georgia have to offer?

3. Is Miller more of a performer, or more of a project?

4. Is Georgia done for the year on recruitment?

5. If not, then other than Shannon and Favors, who would we still consider?

More comments later.

Monday, September 1, 2008

ESPN Top 60 for 2010

ESPN has released their list of the top 60 high school basketball players for 2010.

A few athletes from Georgia were named, including Jalen Kendrick, Jordan McRae, and Trae Golden.

UGA recruit, Jason Morris, is on the list as well.


Sunday, August 31, 2008

Questions from Comments: Grading Felton

Bop and Anonymous commented earlier and left two questions that I wanted to address as a part of separate posts.

Bop asked whether I thought Felton saved his job by winning the SEC Tournament.

My answer: Probably.

I am a Felton supporter and my comments are longer than my usual posts, so feel free to skip the rest if you like. But here are my opinions:

When Felton arrived at Georgia, he had no bench. Successive classes of recruiting had yielded few, if any, players. John Wooden would have lost with what Felton had to work with.

To make matters worse, Georgia had an NCAA investigation looming over its head. The NCAA eventually put Georgia on probation for four years and took away three scholarships. Felton worked to get the penalties reduced, and the NCAA lessened the penalties, but only because UGA's self-imposed penalties were so harsh.

Meanwhile, the Athletic Department placed a high priority on straightening things out, so that no future NCAA violations would occur. Recruiting would be very tough, and making sure that the existing players did the right thing would mean that everyone on the roster would have to adjust, and some might not make it. Cleaning up a mess is needed work, but a janitor has few friends.

Fans, by and large, don't care as much about compliance, academics and the like. In no small way, fans often live vicariously through their teams. It really matters to supporters of college athletics whether their team wins or loses.

So how was the athletic department supposed to respond? High requirements for the coach, few players, and lots of fans demanding prompt results? Last year marked Felton's fifth year at UGA. Hadn't Felton had long enough?

Five years sounds like a long time, but when you have no bench, have to start from scratch with recruiting, and have NCAA sanctions to deal with, it really is only enough time for you to cobble together whoever you can get for your first couple of recruiting classes and get them established as performing upperclassmen.

Yet, the wins were much fewer than the losses, and pressure from the fans and community had been raised. What to do?

I think the athletic department should have applied the appropriate measuring stick, which in my opinion can be phrased as follows: "How has Felton performed given the state of the program when he arrived and the size of the job he was asked to do?" Said another way, "Has he rebuilt the program, based on Credibility/Compliance, Academics, Recruiting, and performance on the court?"

I think that UGA's athletic director, Damon Evans, really missed an opportunity to frame the debate and to shape the expectations of UGA fans. When Evans was publicly non-committal in supporting Felton prior to the SEC Tournament, some fans cheered Evans on. Others questioned: How serious are we about doing things the right way?

If a coach has no bench and the athletic department institutes new policies on class attendance, etc., then the school has to take a long term approach. During that time, the department should carefully follow whether the rebuilding process has begun in earnest, and whether the team is moving toward the goals set for the program.

Georgia had gone from 8 wins to 15 wins the next season, and then from 15 wins to 19 wins in 2006/2007. Mercer and Brown were dismissed at the beginning of 2007/2008. The team's record slipped. Was the program still headed in the right direction? Was it still growing?

There was no doubt in my mind that Felton had rebuilt the program, but it was hard to see. Why? Because growth is not an event. It's a process.

The process will take time. All processes do. But if you build a structure with integrity, the results will come. Conversely, if you do not build correctly, then although you may have more wins in the short term, the whole program may come crashing down later.

Growth, both in nature and in athletics, often occurs while we're not looking. It takes place underground or while we're sleeping, or may be so slow and steady that it is unappreciated-- until there is an event that arrests our attention-- until in Georgia's case the growth is brought sharply into focus in the reflection of an SEC Tournament Championship Trophy.

Georgia players had been working out. Gaining confidence. Persevering. Learning. Training. Losing games in some instances, but staying with it. Getting closer. Growing, even when the record of wins and losses suggested otherwise. And when the team needed to pull together in ways that seemed impossible, the mental toughness and the physical stamina were there to be summoned.

So, what would Evans have done if UGA, instead of winning the SEC Tournament, had been bounced in the first round? Hard to say with any degree of certainty, but it looked to me that he was about to replace Felton. Ironically, had another coach been hired, he may have come in and posted a record that was substantially better than Felton's in his first few years, but a large part of that success would have come because Felton had done the hardest part of the job.

Fox Sports Article

So I would have kept Felton, not because he aced every exam, but because he had done more than enough to keep his job and work toward enjoying the benefits of all the hard work he did to make the program respectable again.

Here are my grades on Felton:

Credibility/Compliance: A+

I think that Felton has done a remarkable job in restoring credibility to the program. Georgia quietly emerged from NCAA probationary status, which in itself is a significant achievement. We had no margin for error, and Felton deservedly gets the credit for making sure we were on top of compliance issues.

Academic Achievement: B+

Athletes arrive on campus, and if they have ever been pushed to buckle down academically, most certainly have never had to study hard enough to make it through the kind of curriculum they face at the university level. Georgia recently achieved an APR rate that was second only to Vanderbilt for SEC basketball programs. How did that happen? Felton had to work at it. He had to insist that his players show up at class and study hall. Having graduated with honors himself, Felton is serious about graduating all of his players.

Recruiting: B

Better and better in this area. Felton worked hard to scour the nation for guys who would be willing to play for the team. He found Gaines in New York, Bliss in Wisconsin, Woodbury in Virginia. The 2007 class looked really good. The 2008 class is even better. Now, can Georgia haul in Favors? If so, the lid on Georgia recruiting will be blown off. I really do think so.

Wins and Losses: C

Although you can't measure him solely by this criterion, the record of wins and losses is certainly part of the caculation. And Georgia has fallen short here. We play in a tough conference. Florida and LSU and Kentucky and Tennessee. It's going to be hard to have a great record when you go up against each of these programs two or three times a year. However, Felton has to find a way to do it.

I want wins as much as anybody. I hope that we start to see very exciting basketball soon.

Drazen Zlovaric

When I mentioned the fact that UGA has several guys who can play above the rim and dunk the ball, I inadvertently left off Drazen Zlovaric's name.

Oversight, I tell you. Zlovaric is a player with a lot of athleticism.

I link below one shot from a site that has a photo gallery of Zlovaric. There are a few other photos there in which you might be interested. The pictures are somewhat dated, but they provide enough information to show that Zlovaric can sky to the rim.


Eric Smith Commits to Gamecocks

As expected, Eric Smith has committed to Darrin Horn and the South Carolina Gamecocks for 2010.

If Horn can get some big men in the fold, he should be well on his way to successfully taking the head coaching reins from Dave Odom.

Tony Mitchell not at Alabama for Fall

As much as I hate to report bad news about athletes, when it relates to the eligibility of members of an SEC school's signing class, it's relevant.


I think that Mitchell will pull it all together and make it to Alabama in the not too distant future. Good for him and Bama. Not too good for UGA. Mitchell can really play.

Anyway, the Mitchell development shows that Dennis Felton and staff are doing a pretty good job with recruitment. We signed 5 recruits for 2008, and all of them qualified. I commend the staff and I commend the student athletes.

[Doesn't sound like so big a deal, this matter of qualifying to get into school, until you compare it to what Georgia faced just a few years ago, when none of our recruits made it to campus for fall quarter.]

Alright, let's keep everybody eligible to play, lace 'em up, and get ready to start practice.