The 2014/15 version of Mark Fox's Hoop Hounds ended in somewhat disappointing fashion. But then again, they went out to arguably the best coach in college basketball (or at least when it comes to the Tournament), have posted 20+ wins for two seasons in a row (a rare feat in our history), and at least made the dance (again, a rare feat in our history). And with two strong seniors in PF Nemi Djurisic and C Marcus Thornton moving on to possible pro careers, can Georgia continue building on their recent success?
In short, yes they can.
A big part of why they can will be found on the perimeter. Georgia this year struggled with depth and injuries, as we saw another senior, walk-on Taylor Echols spend much of the year as the first option off the bench at G. Next year, that shouldn't be the case as seniors Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann return, along with juniors JJ Frazier, Juwan Parker, and Kenny Paul Geno. That gives Mark Fox a lot of experience on the ball, and that level of experience is often a good sign of success in college basketball.
Next year also sees a local product, G William "Turtle" Jackson out of Athens Christian, and Texas SF E'torrion Wilridge added to the mix. Jackson gives us something similar to Mann in a wide frame, tall G with the ability to drive the lane almost at will. But he gives a better outside shot than Mann, and perhaps better finishing in the lane. It's true that he'll be having to do that against better competition in college, but that's some explosion off the floor. Wilridge adds something close to what was lost when Brandon Morris got the boot, and that's a long athlete defensively and a solid all around game offensively.
Barring any defections (and that is always a concern at this time of year), that's a strong starting trio, and a solid backup for each spot. A healthier Kenny Gaines, which we didn't see the entire season as a junior, can return to the legit #1 option offensively we saw as a sophomore. Mann and Frazier add veteran ball handlers at the point, while Jackson can play as much or as little as he earns with his talent backing up both G spots. A healthy Juwan Parker, continued development of Geno, and adding one of the best in Texas at SF provides competition for that job, if Fox decides to not run a three guard set starting Frazier, Gaines, and Mann. Ball handling, shooting, defending, this group has it all. And it may add one more this spring (though that may require one of those mentioned to not be around anymore), with a few options being pursued like arguably the best prospect in the country in Jaylen Brown from Wheeler, whose family has a strong and lengthy relationship with recent assistant coaching hire Yasir Rosemond.
This is where Mark Fox and his staff's biggest concern for next year lies. As said above, we lose our two starting big men. Yante Maten was an excellent pick up last spring, and was effective defensively as a rebounder and shot blocker. He still needs work offensively (shot just 41%, which is not good for a big man), but Fox has shown over the years he can improve individual games with the best of them.
Joining him inside will be senior Cam Forte, who proved a very effective scorer off the bench over the last couple months. Capable of playing SF and PF, though he's a bit of a liability defensively at both, if Forte can remain in a 6th man style role, he should be an excellent option for Fox to call on from the bench. Houston Kessler provides another body for fouls, and has the outside shot to provide good minutes off the bench as well as he enters his redshirt junior season. And Osahen Iduwe, while old for a freshman, is relatively new to the game and should see drastic improvements over the summer in his game working with Fox and assistant coach and former Georgia big man Jonas Hayes. In the least, he has the size and length to give effective minutes defensively off the bench if his understanding of the game can make necessary improvements.
The problem is though, if Forte and the others come off the bench, who starts next to Maten up front? Derek Ogbeide is the third currently committed member of the 2015 class, and a top 15 prospect in Georgia out of Pebblebrook High School. He doesn't have Iduwe's size, but he's not small, and has a very effective game around the rim. Ideally, he'll fill a role similar to what we saw from Maten this past season as he competes with Kessler and Iduwe for minutes off the bench.
There should definitely be some changes with this squad between now and when the season tips off this coming November. It's possible someone may leave, and this includes assistant Phillip Pearson, who can be expected to get some looks from a few mid majors as the coaching carousel gets rolling after his good work in Athens and Tuscaloosa before here. But there almost certainly will be an addition or two to the roster. As mentioned above, Fox and staff are in the mix for five star Jaylen Brown, as well as perhaps Texan Tyler Williams and former Baylor commit Kobie Eubanks at SF. Inside, Fox has been pursuing a handful of high school kids like Michigan's Michael Edwards, Lagrange's Shawntrez Davis, and son of a former NBA big man, Antonio Vrankovic. We can also expect Fox and company to be heavily involved in the graduate transfer market this spring. Who exactly will be available is unknown, but there are guys who can bring us a legit 20-30 minutes a night likeformer Charlotte big Mike Thorne, Jr.
This should be an active spring in the college basketball world as coaches and players start moving around, and the handful of available prospects get gobbled up. But regardless of what Georgia does, they have a core next season that should help them keep dancing. And if this spring goes well, perhaps stick around the dance a little longer.